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Organ Donation: Your Questions Answered

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Posted by Temple Health

Organ donation is an opportunity to give an incredibly special gift — a gift that can save and improve the lives of those in need of a transplant. The Temple Health Transplant Program wants to help make our community aware of organ donation options and how we support donors and organ recipients.

In this Q&A, Karen Rafferty, MSN, RN, CCTC, AVP of the Temple Transplant Program, and John Mulligan, RN, Kidney Transplant Coordinator at Temple University Hospital, discuss the critical need for organ donation and answer some common questions people ask about the process.

Q: Why should I consider being an organ donor?

Rafferty: Tens of thousands of people in the U.S. are waiting for an organ transplant, and yet there aren’t enough organs to go around. As a result, 17 people die each day while waiting on a transplant list. You may be able to help save these lives. In addition to saving the lives of those in need of a transplant, your donation can help people who are struggling with their health to enjoy a higher quality of life. That could mean that they won’t have to be connected to an oxygen tank anymore, or have kidney dialysis multiple times per week, for example. Receiving an organ transplant can help people begin to recover their lives, thanks to the generosity of donors.

Q: What organs can I donate as a living donor?

Mulligan: Organs that can be given by living donors include one kidney or one lung, or a part of the liver, pancreas, or intestine. A major advantage of a living donation is that it cuts down on the time that people in need of a transplant have to wait for an organ. Living donor organs also tend to work better and last longer than organs from deceased donors.

Q: What organs and tissues might be used after I am deceased?

Rafferty: You can donate many organs for use after you’re deceased — including your kidneys, lungs, heart, pancreas, intestines, eyes and liver — and the list is growing. Tissues that can be donated include skin that can be used for grafting, as well as corneas, cartilage, heart valves, tendons, veins, and bones.

Q: How do I sign up to donate my organs?

Rafferty: You can register to be an organ donor when you get or renew your driver’s license. But you don’t have to wait until it’s time to do either of those things. If you live in the tri-state area (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York) you can go online right now and sign up at the Gift of Life Donor Program website. If you’re under 18, you may register, but you may need consent from a parent or legal guardian to be an organ donor. If you live outside of the Greater Philadelphia region, you can go to Donate Life America and find your state’s registry.

Q. How do I become a living organ donor?

Mulligan: If you’re interested in being a living organ donor, you can contact the Temple Transplant Program at 215-707-8889 and ask to speak to a living donor nurse coordinator. We’d be more than happy to explore this option with you and the transplant recipient you want to help.

Q: How do you determine who is eligible to be a living donor?

Mulligan: Potential living organ donors go through a screening process that includes diagnostic testing and a review of their medical history. Some health concerns might make someone ineligible to be a living donor candidate.

I’ll start by listing some of the more common concerns we look at for the health and well-being of the organ donor. Remember, our job is also to make sure that organ donation is safe for the potential donor. For that reason — and I’ll use kidney donation as an example — we generally exclude potential donors who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or a body mass index (BMI) above 40. These conditions can make transplant surgery or giving up a kidney too risky for the would-be donor. For instance, a potential donor with diabetes is at increased risk for developing kidney disease themselves. In addition to those exclusions, we don’t use organs or tissue from donors who have cancer. This is because the person who receives the organ could develop cancer in that organ in the future.

Overall, our goals in screening living donor candidates are to make sure you’re healthy enough to donate an organ and that you’re emotionally prepared to be a donor.

Q: What costs are involved in donating an organ?

Mulligan: If you’re a living donor, the transplant recipient’s insurance typically covers all the medical costs related to the donation process, including the evaluation process, the surgery, and the post-surgery care. But it usually doesn’t cover other expenses, such as travel and lodging. But the organ recipient’s insurance or programs like the National Living Donor Assistance Center may help with these costs.

If you donate an organ that is used after you die, your family will never see a bill for the organ donation.

Q: Can someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ donate?

Rafferty: Absolutely. Sexual orientation and gender identity or expression do not affect a person’s ability to donate an organ.

Q: How does Temple help support living donors through the donation process?

Rafferty: An entire transplant team — including nurses, doctors, pharmacists, nutritionists, and social workers — are here to support your physical and emotional well-being before, during, and after the transplant surgery. And if you have any kind of concern, you can call our number 24 hours a day.

Mulligan: As I always tell people who are considering being a living donor, we are your advocates. We're here to give you information about the process and to make sure that this is safe for you and that you’re comfortable with being a donor. You have to buy into this 100% to be eligible because it’s obviously a big commitment. But you can change your mind at any time, even the morning of the donation surgery. We will support you. There is no judgment.

Q. Are there any age limits for living donation?

Mulligan: You have to be at least 18 to donate an organ. We don’t like to place upper age limits on potential donors because, for instance, someone can be 70 and if you didn't know their age while doing their evaluation testing, you could say, “wow, this is a healthy 60-year-old.” Instead, we look at the health status of every potential donor individually. In other words, the health of the potential donor is generally more important than their age.

Improving lives through organ transplant

Temple’s Transplant Program is home to a dedicated team of renowned surgeons with extensive experience in organ donor transplantation. Because of our years of experience and inclusive patient-selection criteria, we often can help patients in need of a transplant who have been turned down at other transplant centers.

Schedule an appointment with the transplant team, or call 800-TEMPLE-MED today.

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