How an Organ Is Deemed Recoverable for Donation

Orlando Health | Jeffery A. Shadowsky,MD

Across the country doctors performed more than 29,500 organ transplants last year.

These surgeries would not have been possible without donations from thousands of Americans. But unfortunately, many men, women and children still await organ transplants. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 123,000 people are on that list.

As I pointed out in my last blog, many people hold myths about the organ donation process that often keeps them from registering as donors. One of the biggest myths is that doctors won’t treat you aggressively and try to save your life if they know you are an organ donor.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I think it’s important for people to understand how we determine if organs are recoverable, especially after someone experiences a major accident, cardiac arrest or other serious health issue. Understanding these facts hopefully encourage anyone reading this and others to donate.

Organ Recovery Explained

We don’t even consider organ donation unless we’ve exhausted all lifesaving measures. There are two processes for organ donation. Donation after Cardiac Death (DCD) and Donation after Brain Death. In the case of DCD, two physicians and the patient’s family, “legal next of kin” or designated healthcare representative must make the decision to stop lifesaving measures and withdraw life support. Only after the decision is made, do we discuss organ donation with a patient’s family.

Working with a local organ donation organization, we assess every potential donor to see if their organs are viable for a transplant. In cases of cardiac arrest, if a person has an irreversible neurological injury, end stage musculoskeletal disease, pulmonary disease or high spinal cord injury, their organs may be suitable for donation. Donation after Cardiac Death” accounts for 10-20% of all organs recovered for transplantation. With DCD, many of the body’s vital organs can’t be used for organ donation but tissues, such as the bones, corneas, heart valves and skin, can be donated within 24 hours. Continue reading