Specifically, a person must be declared “brain dead” – register no brain activity in tests. Then the person must stay on a breathing machine to keep oxygen-rich blood flowing to the vital organs.
Next, the person undergoes tests to assess organ function, and organ-donation officials work to find the best recipients for the available organs, Holliday said. The testing and organ-matching process usually takes up to 24 hours.
A person’s heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, two kidneys and two lungs can each go to a separate recipient, Holliday said, “so one donor can save up to eight lives.”
In addition, up to 50 people may benefit from one person’s tissue donation, Holliday said, with skin, eyes, bones, ligaments and tendons all going to individual recipients. Tissues, unlike organs, do not have to be transplanted immediately, and matching is less specific, Holliday said.
It’s more common for people to die under circumstances that allow for tissue-only donation, she said.
If a person dies because his heart stops beating, that person likely could be a tissue-only donor.
Tissue can be recovered for up to 24 hours after death.
"It’s still a rare gift because a lot of people still say, ‘no,’ ” Holliday said.
The need for organ and tissue donors has grown continually.
When Holliday began her work with LifeCenter in 1993, 35,000 people were on the national waiting list to receive organs; now the waiting list exceeds 112,000 people.
There is no waiting list for tissue; it’s provided on an as-needed basis, she said, "and there’s always a need."
For more information: www.lifepassiton.org