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.

What is Donate Life Wisconsin?

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:

  • Ethically-based
  • 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 2025.

Our members include:

Regular Members:

American Tissue Services Foundation
Advocate Aurora Health
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
Community Liver Alliance
Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin, Froedtert Hospital
Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin
National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin
UW Health Transplant Program
UW Organ and Tissue Donation
Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Associate Members:
Maranda Abitz, Living Donor
John Hacker, Transplant Recipient
Rachel Maske, Donor Family Representative
Erica Singley, Corneal Transplant Recipient

What is organ, tissue and eye donation?

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.

Why is organ, eye and tissue donation so important?

More than 1,800 people are currently waiting for a life-saving transplant in Wisconsin. Thousands more await tissue, bone, skin and corneas. One donor can save and heal the lives of more than 75 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.

What organs, tissues and eyes may be donated?

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.

Will the doctors do everything they can to try and save me if they know my wishes to be a donor?

Your life is always first. If you are taken to the hospital after an accident or injury, it is the hospital’s number one priority to save YOUR life. Your status as a donor is not even considered until every effort has been made to try to save your life. The Organ Procurement Organization team is separate from the medical team treating patients. This ensures that there is no conflict of interest.

Is organ, eye and tissue donation difficult on the donating family?

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.

If I am a donor, what kind of tests do they conduct on my body?

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.

May I become a donor if I have had cancer?

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.

What is the age limit for organ, eye and tissue donation?

You’re never too old. Medical advances 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.

Is there a difference between tissue and organ 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.

What is the financial cost to the donor family?

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.

Will donation affect the appearance of the donor?

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.

Does my religion allow donation?

All major religions in the United States support organ, eye and tissue donation and consider it a final act of love and generosity toward others.

How long can organs and tissues survive before being transplanted?

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

Can organs and tissues be donated to someone of a different race or ethnicity?

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.

Why is it important for me to talk about donation with my family?

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.

What is the Wisconsin Donor Registry?

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.