7 Helpful Terms to Better Understand Organ Donation and Transplantation

Photo: Brian Talbot

40.confused-couple-flickr-brian-talbotWhat is an OPO? What does "Donor Designation Rate" mean? What is organ donation? 

Don't worry, you're not alone. We talk about organ donation all the time, but we know that sometimes all the language can be a bit confusing. 

Take a moment to test your knowledge and learn some commonly used terms that will help you better understand organ donation and transplantation.

1. Organ Procurement Organization - OPO

These are the “hands and feet” of organ donation. Currently, there are total of 58 OPOs in the United States. Each OPO serves a designated area of the country and has two main responsibilities:

  • increasing the number of registered donors
  • coordinating the donation process when actual donors become available.

You can find a listing of all OPOs in the US at or learn about the OPOs we're helping through the Legacy Gift Program at

2 & 3. Donor Designation Rate & Donor Designation Share (DDR & DDS)

These are two key factors when measuring the success of organ donor registrations. They are updated and reported yearly in the Donate Life Annual Report Card.

  • Donor Designation Rate (DDR): the rate at which individuals join or remain in the state donor registry as a percentage of all driver’s licenses and ID cards issues during a specific time. DLA’s goal is for the states to achieve a minimum of 50% DDR. Many states have done an excellent job of making it prominent and easy to register when getting your driver’s licence, but many states need to improve their procedures and processes.
  • Donor Designation Share (DDS): the total number of designated donors as a percentage of all state residents age 18 and over. As of the end of 2013, the US has a DDS of 48%. DLA’s goal is 50%. The is a commonly reported number that most people discuss. It’s important to remember that each state is responsible for their official registries and that is isn’t a national registration database. You can always find your state registry at

To learn more about the report, read 4 Key Factors to Help You Understand Donate Life’s Annual Donor Report Card.

4. Living Donation

Approximately 6,000 living organ donations take place each year, with the first successful living donation transplant occurring in 1954. The majority of living donations are kidneys, but it is possible to donate portions of the liver, lungs, pancreas, and intestines.

Tissues that can be donated by a living donor include:

  • skin
  • bone
  • blood
  • marrow
  • blood stem cells
  • umbilical cord blood
  • amnion

Learn more about living organ and tissue donation at

Living donation is usually a very personal decision to help family and friends, however as word spreads about this way of helping others there are an increasing number of cases of altruistic donations. Speak with your physician about questions you have as there are many variables to consider, including potential risks and costs.

If you’re interested in being a living donor you can find assistance and learn more at the National Living Donor Assistance Center website.

5. Transplant Centers

These are the sections within hospitals that are designated by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN); they operate organ transplant programs and help form policies that govern the transplant community. Currently, there are 245 transplant centers in the US. All are accredited and certified facilities by the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS).

To find transplant centers listed by state and region, visit the OPTN Member Directory.

6. Cornea Transplant

Also referred to as "keratoplasty", a cornea transplant is the surgical procedure that replaces part of the cornea - the thin, transparent layer on the eye that is vital to sight and healthy eyes - with corneal tissue from a donor. It can give sight to those in need, reduce pain, and improve the appearance of a damaged/diseased cornea. With an average of 40,000 cornea transplants performed in the US every year, the procedure has a high success rate.

Learn more about cornea transplants at

7. Organ Donation

This is the process of taking healthy organs and tissues from one person (a donor) and transplanting them into another person (a recipient). As stated by Donate Life America, "In order for a person to become an organ donor, blood and oxygen must flow through the organs until the time of recovery to ensure viability." While some donors are living, most organ donations come from a deceased donor. In which case there has been consent to donate and after all possible efforts to save the person's life have been exhausted. 

Learn More: What Organs Can Be Donated

Grab Your Copy: "What Can Be Donated" One-Sheet

Tags: Organ Donation Information

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