What is Organ Donation?

Organ donation is the process of removing an organ from one person and surgically placing it in another person. Many organs can be donated. Donations include the liver, kidney, pancreas, and heart.

Every day in the United States, 21 people die waiting for an organ and more than 112,109 people need a lifesaving organ transplant (total waiting list candidates). Of those, 69,314 people are active waiting list candidates. One more person is added to the national waiting list every 10 minutes. More than 155 million people have registered as organ donors, but only about 3 in 1,000 can actually become donors when they pass away.

Donation rates are improving year-by-year thanks to the gift of life from organ donors and their families, the number of donors and transplants performed in 2019 in the United States reached an all-time high at 39,719, which is 8.7% increase from 2018.

What organs and tissues can be transplanted?

Organs and tissues that can be transplanted include:

  • Liver
  • Kidney
  • Pancreas
  • Heart
  • Lung
  • Intestine
  • Cornea
  • Middle ear
  • Skin
  • Bone
  • Bone marrow
  • Heart valves
  • Connective tissue
  • Vascularized composite allografts (transplant of several structures that may include skin, bone, muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue)

Who can be an organ donor?

People of all ages should consider themselves potential donors. Anyone younger than age 18 needs to have the consent of a parent or guardian. For organ donation after death, a medical assessment will be done to determine what organs can be donated. Certain conditions, such as having HIV, actively spreading cancer, or severe infection would exclude organ donation.

Having a serious condition like cancer, HIV, diabetes, kidney disease, or heart disease can prevent you from donating as a living donor as well.

Let your transplant team know about any health conditions you have at the beginning of the process. Then they can decide whether you’re a good candidate.

It’s easier to transplant an organ if the donor and recipient are a good match. The transplant team will give you a series of tests to determine whether your blood and tissue types are compatible with the recipient’s.

How can I become an organ donor?

To donate your organs after death, you can either register with your state’s donor registry, or fill out an organ donor card when you get or renew your driver’s license.

Let your family members and loved ones know your desire to be a donor. To become a living donor, you can either work directly with your family member or friend’s transplant team, or contact a transplant center in your area to find out who’s in need of an organ.

-Anant Nahata, Alexander’s Hope Intern


Cleveland Clinic