Is there a difference between tissue and organ donation?
In general, organ donors must be brain dead, which is defined as the irreversible cessation of all brain function. In these very limited cases (approximately 20,000 per year), organ donation occurs when mechanical support (i.e., ventilators) can continue the viability of the organs for a short period of time after the death of the patient. Organs (heart, liver, kidney, etc.) 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 may occur from patients who are either brain dead or who have suffered cardiac death, the cessation of the heart. 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.
Can organs and corneas be recovered along with tissue?
Yes. At the same time tissues are recovered, organs also be recovered if the donor meets the appropriate medical criteria. Corneas, the clear covering of the eye, can also be donated to restore sight to someone in need.
Who donates bone and tissue allografts?
The majority of donors were otherwise healthy and relatively young people who died in accidents or from sudden illness such as heart attack or stroke. 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. Potential donors with histories of any condition that can affect the quality and long-term performance of the bone and/or tissue are also excluded. MTF’s Medical Directors and Technical Staff must approve all donations prior to transplantation.
What tissues can be donated?
Tissues which can be donated include bone, tendons, ligaments, heart valves, skin, veins, cartilage, pericardium and fascia lata (the thin covering of the muscles.)
How are the tissues recovered and what about funeral arrangements?
After authorization for donation has been established, the donated tissues are recovered by skilled medical professionals in a surgical procedure that takes place under aseptic conditions. The procedure is accomplished in a very timely manner, and must occur within 24 hours of the time of death. During the donation procedures, the utmost care and respect is taken with the donor’s body. Donation should not interfere with funeral arrangements, including open casket services.
Where are these tissues used?
Long bones may be used to replace those invaded by cancer. Without such a transplant, the limb may have to be amputated. Smaller sections of bone are used to strengthen areas of a deformed spine and to fill areas where bone has been lost due to conditions that have damaged existing bone. Damaged tendons and ligaments may be reconstructed as well, thus strengthening the joint and assisting the patient in walking or running. Skin can be life-saving for critically burned patients. It is also used for hernia repair, pelvic floor reconstruction, and for breast reconstruction following mastectomy. Heart valves are used to replace damaged heart valves. Saphenous and femoral veins from the legs are used in cardiac bypass surgery for patients who have suffered cardiovascular (heart) disease.
Is there a cost to donate?
No. As with all donated organs, there is no charge to the donor’s family.
Can anyone be a donor?
Most healthy individuals are candidates for donation. Anyone can choose donation. To learn more about organ, tissue and eye donation in your state, visit www.registerme.org.
How does MTF receive donated tissue?
Recovery agencies have chosen to affiliate with MTF in part because of our high ethical standards, the quality and safety of tissue and strict donor criteria. In addition, MTF supports the promotion of donor awareness and the provision of donor family services. Most organ, tissue and eye banks that are members of MTF send tissue to MTF for processing and distribution. This allows them to concentrate on their organizational mission and responsibility to their community, which is donor recovery. Advances in medicine and biotechnology have dramatically improved how bone and musculoskeletal tissues can be used. In order to maximize benefits to recipients, it is vital that these tissues be processed in aseptic Class 4 (certified) Clean Rooms, and according to exact surgical specifications. Small, local tissue banks could not provide this level of quality in a cost effective manner on their own, which is why they send tissue to a large tissue bank for processing. It is also easier for a surgeon to obtain tissue from fewer consistent sources.
If you’re a non-profit, what do you do with the money made from the donations?
MTF and Statline – A Division of MTF, are nonprofit organizations. All revenues are used to cover costs and to further the cause of tissue donation. There are no shareholders and no dividends are paid. Like any business, MTF has significant costs per donor, including reimbursement to the recovery agency for their expenses, testing the tissue to ensure its safety, review of donor records, processing the tissue and distributing the tissue to hospitals and recipients throughout the U.S. We also conduct and sponsor a broad variety of research projects to insure that we are able to make the best possible use of donated tissues. We also contribute to donor awareness projects such as Donate Life America, donor family services and to advancing scientific orthopedic research in leading medical centers.
Are there any objections to donation based on religious belief?
Organ and tissue donation is an accepted practice by all of the major religious denominations. Please refer to the specific denomination’s guidance on donation for more information. Here are some additional resources:
- Religious Views on Donation
- Religion and Organ and Tissue Donation
- Religion and Organ Donation
- Religious Viewpoints
Still have questions?
See these additional FAQ resources:
- US Government HRSA FAQ page
- Donate Life America FAQ page
- United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) FAQ page
- International Institute for the Advancement of Medicine FAQ page