Did You Know You Can Donate Some Organs and Tissues While Alive?

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More than 100,000 Americans are on the national transplant waiting list, and registering to become an organ donor after life is a great way to help save lives.

But did you know you can also donate some organs and tissues while you’re still alive?

Approximately four out of every 10 donations are living donations, and while most living donations are between family and friends, people every year choose to donate to someone they do not know. In fact, one of every four living donors are not biologically related to the recipient.

Why make a living donation?

A living donation is an opportunity to save a life while you are still alive, and because patients who receive a living donation no longer need to be on the national waiting list, it makes the gift of a deceased donor available for someone else in need.

Research has shown that the long-term survival rate for living kidney donors was similar to non-donors, and they did not have an increased risk of kidney failure. In addition, a large study of the long-term effects of kidney donation found that living kidney donors can expect to live full, healthy lives.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, nine out of ten living donors say they would do it again. Living organ donation is a major surgery, however, and all potential complications of major surgery apply. It is not a decision to be taken lightly, and it is important for potential donors to be informed of the known risks involved. Potential donors should also undergo a complete medical and psychosocial evaluation.

What tissues can be donated while alive?

Most people know that they can donate blood or bone marrow multiple times while alive. The body begins replacing blood and marrow right after donation. But you can also donate skin and bone too.

“You may be able to donate the skin that is removed after certain surgical procedures, such as a tummy tuck, and after a knee or hip replacement, you may be able to donate the bone that is removed,” said Trina Abla, DO, MBA, Chief Medical Officer at Penn Highlands Healthcare. “Mothers can also donate amnion and other birth tissues after childbirth. These types of tissue are often used in reconstructive procedures and to treat burns and wounds.”

Can organs be donated while alive?

“The organs that you are able to donate while alive will depend on your current health, but in general, you can donate one of your kidneys, one of your liver lobes, a lung or portion of a lung, part of your pancreas and a section of your intestine,” said Dr. Abla.

The most common living donation is a kidney because you have two kidneys and the remaining one can perform all the necessary functions. In the liver, the cells in your second lobe will grow until your liver is almost its original size in a short amount of time. While your lung, pancreas and intestine do regrow, the portion that remains after donation remains fully functional.

Who is able to make a living donation?

If you are considering making a living donation, a doctor will examine you to ensure that you are a good candidate. Living donors should not have a history of diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, kidney disease or heart disease.

Your transplant doctor will also have an honest, detailed conversation with you to ensure that you are unlikely to experience any negative physical or emotional outcome after donation.

To register as an organ donor, visit www.CORE.org/register. To learn how you can support patient care in our area, visit www.phhealthcare.org/donate.