Matching Donors with Recipients: The Process of Organ Donation

55._organ_donation_the_process-_green_shoes_up_the_stairs-flickr-beverly_goodwinHave you ever wondered what the process of matching organ donors to organ recipients is like? Look no further and get ready to learn. (Adapted from

Matching Organ Donors with Organ Recipients

Once the evaluation of a deceased donor does not rule out donation, three crucial steps take place to match organ donors with organ recipients: 

1. Communication - The OPO (Organ Procurement Organization) contacts the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) to begin the search for matching recipients. The OPTN operates the national database of all patients in the U.S. waiting for a transplant. It is operated by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)

2. Using Technology - A computer program matches donor organs with recipients based on certain characteristics. These include blood type, tissue type, height, and weight of a patient. Additionally, the length of time the patient has been waiting, the severity of the patient's illness, and the distance between the donor's and the recipient's hospitals also figure into who is the best match for a specific organ. The list does not reference race, gender, income or social status. A list of patients (by organ type) who match the donor is generated. Each organ is offered to the first patient on the computer match list. (If you think this is interesting, check out how technology is helping the wait list in another article: Decreasing the Waiting List with Organ Donation Data? Possibly.)

3. Evaluating - The transplant surgeon may determine that the organ is medically suitable for that patient or may refuse the organ for a number of reasons, such as the patient is too sick to be transplanted or the patient cannot be reached in time. Most organs (75%) go to local patients. The others are shared with patients in other regions of the country.

Once a donor and recipient have been matched and transplant surgeons have given the green light, additional steps in the process are carried out.
  • Maintaining the Organ Donor - The donor is maintained on artificial support while the arrangements for transplantation are made. The condition of each organ is carefully monitored by the hospital medical staff and the OPO procurement coordinator.

  • Recovering and Transporting Organs - The OPO representative arranges the arrival and departure times of the transplant surgical teams. After the surgical team arrives, the donor is taken to the operating room where organs and tissues are recovered in the same sterile and careful way as in any surgery. Tissue recoveries such as bone, cornea, and skin occur after organ recoveries. All incisions are surgically closed and usually do not interfere with open-casket funerals.

  • Timing - Organs must get to their new homes very quickly as they can remain healthy only for short periods of time after removal from the donor. The OPO representative makes arrangements for the organs to get to the hospitals of the intended recipients. Method of transportation varies with the distance the organs are traveling, and most often involve commercial and contracted airplanes, helicopters, and ambulances.

  • Transplanting the Organs to a Waiting List Candidate - The transplant operation takes place after the transport team arrives at the hospital with the new organ. Typically the transplant recipient is already at the hospital and may be in the operating room awaiting the arrival of the lifesaving organ. Surgical teams work around the clock as needed to transplant the new organs into the waiting recipients.

Where it All Begins

Before a patient can become an organ donor, important factors have to be taken into consideration and specific steps must be followed.

  • Enrolling as an Organ Donor - The organ donation process begins when someone makes the decision to register as an organ donor by enrolling in their state's organ donor registry. 

Click to Find Your State's Organ Donor Registry

  • Exhausting All Possible Efforts -  When a potential organ donor is admitted to the hospital, usually due to illness or accident, health care professionals do everything possible to save the patient's life while maintaining the patient on mechanical devices. 

  • Testing for Brain Death - After the medical team has exhausted all possible lifesaving efforts and the patient is not responding, a physician will perform a series of tests, usually on multiple occasions, to determine if brain death has occurred. This is usually done by a neurosurgeon or neurologist in compliance with accepted medical practice and state law. Patients who are brain dead have no brain activity and cannot breathe on their own. 

  • Alerting the OPO - A hospital notifies its local organ procurement organization (OPO) of every patient that has died or is nearing death to provide information about the deceased and confirm his or her potential to be a donor. If the patient is a potential candidate for donation, an OPO representative immediately travels to the hospital.

  • Consent - The OPO representative will search the state's donor registry to see if the deceased had enrolled as a donor. If so, that will serve as legal consent. If the deceased had not registered and there was no other legal consent for donation, the OPO will seek consent from the next of kin. Once consent is obtained, medical evaluation will continue, including obtaining the deceased's complete medical and social history from the family.

Take Action

Did you know that 18 people die every day while waiting for an organ, but one donor can save up to eight lives? With all the myths and misunderstanding around organ donation out there, opportunities to save lives are being missed, and with over 120,000 names on the waiting list there's no time to lose. YOU can make a difference. Register to be an organ donor, and tell your friends, family, and loved ones why you did it.

Check Out the Organ Donation: The Process Information Sheet!

Read the 9 Facts You Should Know About Organ Donation



Tags: Organ Donation Information, Talking About Organ Donation, Facts & Myths About Organ Donation

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