Tissue Donation Facts

Each year, approximately 39,000 tissue donors provide lifesaving and healing tissue for those on the waiting list, adding up to roughly 1.75 million total tissue transplants occurring annually. Tissue transplants are more common than other transplants. Donated tissue such as skin, bone, and heart valves can dramatically improve the quality of life for recipients, and help save the lives of more than 75 people.

Tissue donation can be used in many surgical applications to heal and save lives of many people. These life-saving surgical applications include, but are not limited to: saving patients with severe burns, healing athletes with torn tendons, restoring mobility in solders injured in combat, and repairing joints, jaws, and spinal components.

The process for tissue transplant is similar to the process for an organ transplant. When accredited tissue recovery organizations receive referrals when someone has died, an initial determination of tissue donor eligibility is based on a medical evaluation and available social and family information (e.g. age, cause of death, immediate evidence of infection, family medical history). If it is determined that the person is a candidate for tissue donation, donation professionals will search the local state donor registry and the National Donate Life Registry to find a match for the patient in need of the tissue. If the potential donor becomes unable to donate tissue, the legal next of kin is offered the opportunity to authorize the donation.

Tissue donation must be initiated within 24 hours of a person’s death. Unlike organs, donated tissue can be processed and stored for an extended period of time. Donated tissue can be used in burn cases, ligament repair, bone replacement, and to help with other serious medical situations. In addition, most people can be potential tissue donors at the time of death.

Tissue transplant procedures vary depending on the type of tissue being donated — recipients prepare for a cornea transplant and a heart valve surgery differently. If you or a loved one is undergoing a tissue transplant, your doctor will communicate the steps of the procedure and risks associated with your particular surgery. 

There are many different types of tissue that can be donated and used to save lives. These tissues include: corneas (used to restore sight), tendons (used to rebuild joints), heart valves (used to repair cardiac defects), veins (used to re-establish circulation), skin (used to heal burn patients), bones (used to prevent the need for amputation), and birth tissue (used in reconstructive procedures to promote healing, and to treat burns and painful wounds).

Thousands of people die each year waiting for organ and tissue transplants, and many more face long wait times and poor medical alternatives for lack of available organs and tissues. Registering to donate helps end needless suffering and saves lives of thousands of people on the waiting list. Although 90% of Americans support organ and tissue donation, only 60% of them have acted by registering to become donors. It is quick and easy to register and you will carry the pride in having the ability to save up to 75 lives with your tissue.

-Vlad Elizarov, Alexander’s Hope Intern


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