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Providers Weigh In: Organ Donation is a Gift of Life — Even Without a Match

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

National Donate Life Month has been observed every April for more than a decade. With the need for donors continuously increasing, this month is dedicated to encourage Americans to register as organ, eye, and tissue donors — and to celebrate those that have saved lives with the gift of donation.

Dr. Oberholzer

Jose Oberholzer, MD
Chief of the Division of Transplantation at UI Health

“Transplantation is one of the most remarkable developments in the history of medicine,” says Dr. Jose Oberholzer, director of the Islet and Pancreas Transplant Program and the chief of the Division of Transplantation at UI Health. “It gives hope to thousands of people with organ failure and provides many others with active and renewed lives. Anyone can be a potential donor — regardless of age, race, or medical history.”

Increasing Need

About 22 people die each day because the organs they need are not received in time, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The increasing need for transplantations led to numerous efforts to make organs more available. Researchers at UI Health studied more than 1,000 incompatible kidney transplants and proved that despite immunologic challenges, patients with donor-specific, immune-system antibodies experience a significant higher survival rate if they undergo an incompatible live-organ transplant compared to remaining on dialysis for years while they wait for a compatible organ.

“There are about 20,000 patients at any one time for whom finding a compatible organ is almost impossible,” Dr. Oberholzer says. “Our Kidney team is successful with several types of ABO-incompatible and positive-crossmatch transplants,where a donor may not be 100% compatible with the recipient,”

Organ donation can be from either deceased or living donors.

Deceased Donation

The deceased-donation process begins with a choice. Deceased donors are individuals who have irreversibly lost all brain function. They are most often individuals who die from accidents, heart attacks, or strokes. More than 2 million people die in America each year, but only a fraction die under circumstances that make them medically eligible to be organ donors.

After the death of the donor is confirmed through repeated testing over a prolonged period of time, the most suitable recipient of the donated organs is found through a national registry. Then, organs are surgically removed and sent for the transplantation. Throughout the entire process, the donor is treated with honor and respect.

Living Donation

While many people are willing to be living donors, not everyone is eligible. Donors must be chosen carefully in order to avoid outcomes that are medically and psychologically unsatisfactory.

Before the donation process begins, the interested person has to undergo a basic medical screening to check if there are any conditions that would keep them from being a donor. The donor has a choice to name a specific person as a recipient of their donated organ.

Although transplantation is highly successful, complications for the donor and recipient can arise. However, donation does not change the life expectancy. Generally, recovery takes about two to six weeks. Be sure to talk to your doctor about what to expect.

To learn more about becoming an organ donor, please visit the Division of Transplantation at UI Health.