Registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor is an incredible gift! It means that you are agreeing to donate your organs, eyes and tissues to people in need when your life is over. Learn the facts about registering as an organ, tissue and eye donor. We understand you may have questions. If we haven’t answered your questions here, please contact us.
Donate Life Wisconsin is an alliance of organizations and caring individuals across the state committed to increasing the number of donated organs, eyes and tissue available for transplant to save and enhance lives. We motivate people to become donors through awareness, education, registration, advocacy and support of donor families.
Our beliefs are sound, but our goals are lofty. We place strong value in being:
- Responsible stewards of our funds
- Adaptable to a changing environment
- Supportive of our national partnership with Donate Life America
- Exemplary collaborators
Our vision is that everyone in Wisconsin will choose to be an organ, eye and tissue donor by the year 2020.
Our members include:
American Tissue Services Foundation
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin
National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin
RTI Donor Services
UW Health Transplant Program
UW Organ and Tissue Donation
Wisconsin Department of Health Services
Rachel Maske, Donor Family Representative
John Hacker, Transplant Recipient
Donation is the process of recovering organs, tissues and eyes from a deceased person and transplanting them into others in order to save or improve the lives of those in need. Up to eight lives can be saved through organ donation, and many others may be improved through eye and tissue donation. Donated organs and tissue that are not suitable for transplant or therapeutic purposes may be used to improve lives through research and education.
More than 2,200 people are currently waiting for a life-saving transplant in Wisconsin. Thousands more await tissue, bone, skin and corneas. One donor can save or improve the lives of more than 50 people. Donated organs are used to save the lives of people with organ failure. Donated corneas restore vision for the blind. Donated skin, bone and tissue help repair defects, promote faster healing, save limbs and can save the lives of those with severe burns. Heart valves give patients a chance to resume normal life.
There are eight organs that may be transplanted: heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas and small intestine. Donated tissue is used to treat burn patients, serious abrasions, hernia repairs and in reconstructive surgeries for patients such as breast cancer survivors. Bone is used in orthopedic surgeries to facilitate the healing of fractures or to prevent amputation. Heart valves are used to replace defective valves. Tendons are used to repair torn ligaments on knees or other joints. Veins are used in surgeries. Corneas can restore sight to the blind.
Donation is only considered after all efforts to save a patient’s life have been exhausted by the medical team. Organ recovery only occurs after death has been declared. The Organ Procurement Organization is a separate team of people from the medical team that is treating the patient. This ensures that there is no conflict of interest.
Donation may provide immediate and long-term consolation, especially in light of sudden, unexpected circumstances. The family members of the donor often feel encouraged that something good has come out of something tragic.
Once death has been declared and authorization is verified through the donor registry, donation professionals must conduct blood tests and other standard medical tests to determine whether or not the patient is suitable to be a donor.
It may be possible to be a donor if you have had cancer. At the time of donation, medical professionals will assess your organs and tissues and determine if they are suitable for transplantation. Each donor is evaluated on an individual basis.
There are no set age limits for donation, meaning people of any age may become a donor. Advances in technology allow more people than ever to be donors, including older adults and those with previous medical conditions. At the time of death, medical professionals will evaluate whether an individual’s organs and tissues can be transplanted. Medical eligibility depends on many factors and must be determined after the donor’s death. Every donor is thoroughly screened and tested before donation can take place. This screening includes comprehensive medical and social histories, including high-risk behaviors for transmissible diseases that automatically eliminate any possibility of donation.
For organ donation to occur, the patient must be in a hospital on a ventilator and have been declared deceased due to loss of brain or cardiac function. The organs must be quickly recovered, properly preserved and transplanted quickly. Organs must be carefully matched to waiting recipients. Matching is done according to factors such as blood type, medical status of the recipient and size of the waiting recipient. Tissue donation occurs in the first 24 hours after the heart has stopped beating. The tissues can be preserved and used at a later date. Consequently, there are many more potential tissue donors than organ donors. Tissue recipients do not have to be matched to their donors, as rejection is not generally a concern.
There is no financial cost to the donor family. All costs for recovery of donated organs, eyes and tissues are passed on to transplant recipients and their insurance providers. The donor’s family pays only for the medical care provided before death and normal funeral expenses. Organ, tissue and eye donation is a gift. It is illegal in the United States to buy or sell organs or tissues.
Great care is taken to preserve the donor’s appearance through the delicate surgical procedures that occur during organ and tissue recovery. Incisions and areas of tissue donation can be covered by clothing. An open-casket funeral can occur following donation. The recovering agency will make certain the body is released to the funeral home on time. No extra planning is required by families of organ and tissue donors. Through the entire donation process the body is treated with care, respect and dignity.
Most major religions in the U.S. support donation as a gift of life to fellow human beings. The vast majority of religious groups support donation as the highest gesture of humanitarianism. Some religions have taken a pro-active stance with a resolution, or adopted a position, that encourages people to seriously consider donation and plan accordingly.
Thanks to advances in medical technology and improved preservation techniques, organs, tissues and corneas may be transported to reach recipients waiting in transplant centers. Approximate preservation times are:
- Heart/lung: 4 to 6 hours
- Pancreas: 12 to 24 hours
- Liver: 6 to 8 hours
- Kidneys: 24 to 72 hours
- Corneas: Must be transplanted within 5 to 7 days
- Heart valves, skin, bone, tendons, veins: May be preserved from 3 to 5 years
Yes. Organ size is critical to matching the donor and recipient for hearts, livers and lungs. But genetic makeup is also important when matching kidneys; therefore, African-Americans will “match” better with a kidney donated from an African-American than any other race—as will Asians with Asians, etc. For an allograft (human to human tissue) transplant, you do not need to have a “match” in order to receive a tissue transplant. For cornea transplantation, the best match is based on size and age of the cornea.
Many people don’t like to discuss end-of-life situations; however, talking about donation is different than talking about death. When you share your donation decision with your family, you are talking about the opportunity to help others and to make sure that your family understands and follows through with your choice.
When you add your name to the Wisconsin Donor Registry, it means you have authorized the gift of your organs, tissues, and eyes upon your death. Registering indicates legal consent for donation. Your gift will be used to save and improve the lives of others through transplantation, therapy, research or education.
Please see this FAQ regarding the Wisconsin Donor Registry.