Ask Anything: 10 questions with Dawn Hall, organ donation
Posted January 21, 2009 5:35 a.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 2:03 p.m. EDT
Is it true that even though you may have "donor" listed on your drivers license, that your surviving family may get the last say in that decision? – Tina Beck, Youngsville
There are now two ways to designate yourself as a donor in North Carolina. You can designate your decision by having a heart placed on your driver’s license each time you renew your license, or by registering online at www.donatelifenc.org.
Both ways constitute first-person legal consent in North Carolina. The law, called “The Heart Prevails” legislation, went into effect on Oct. 1, 2007. This law puts the decision-making power in the hands of the donor.
If a person has indicated that they would like to be a donor, the organ procurement agencies work with families to walk them through the process of honoring their loved one’s wishes. It is very important to let your family know your decision regarding donation. After registering to be a donor, make sure you discuss your wishes with your family so that everyone is well-informed.
If I am an organ donor, does this mean that doctors don’t try as hard to save my life if they know a donor needs my organs? – Jane, Creedmoor
The first priority of a medical professional is to save the life of a sick or injured person. The decision to be a donor will in no way alter the level of medical care for the sick or injured person.
Organ and tissue donation isn’t even considered or discussed until after death has been declared. Typically, the doctors and nurses involved in a person’s care before death are not involved in the recovery or transplantation of donated organs and tissues.
Is it possible to designate some organs for donation (eyes, liver, etc.) while not donating others (heart, lung, etc.)? – G. Stormer, Fuquay-Varina
North Carolinians can register to be a donor through the DMV when getting one’s license renewed and by registering online at www.donatelifenc.org. Registering online as a donor gives you the option to designate certain organs and tissue for donation. It only takes a few minutes to answer the series of questions, one of which gives you the option to specify the organs and/or tissue you wish to donate.
This is a hot topic – do illegal aliens get put on the transplant list? – Annette, Fuquay-Varina
Yes. There is no law or regulation that prohibits listing illegal aliens. However, the number of illegal aliens who are listed for or receive transplants is quite low.
The United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS), the federally designated organization that administers the United States' only organ procurement and transplantation network, monitors how many non-resident foreign nationals each transplant center performs in a year.
Nationwide, however, non-resident foreign nationals account for less than 2 percent of all transplant recipients. Illegal aliens are a small subset of that total since most non-resident transplant patients have legal status to be in the United States. Illegal aliens also generously donate their organs in the United States.
There is a critical need for donation. There are currently more than 100,000 people on the national transplant waiting list with more than 3,000 of them being North Carolina residents. Sadly, an average of 18 people die every day in our country awaiting a life-saving transplant.
For more information and donation statistics, you can visit www.unos.org.
Can you specify who you want your organs donated to? – Deanna Lawhorn, Newton Grove
In the case of a deceased donor, the next of kin will be given the option to direct their loved one’s donation to a certain individual awaiting a transplant or to a particular transplant center.
Regarding living donation, by offering a kidney, lobe of a lung, portion of the liver, pancreas, or intestine, living donors offer their loved one or friend an alternative to waiting on the national transplant waiting list for an organ from a deceased donor. Living donation arrangements are made through the transplant center(s) where the patient is listed.
My son passed away four years ago and was an organ donor. Is there any way to find out exactly which of his organs were used? We know his eyes were used, but don’t know about any of his other organs. – Terry Reaves, Fayetteville
Many donor families find great comfort in gathering details about their loved one’s gift of donated organs and tissue. You can contact the organ procurement organization who facilitated your son’s donation to make a request for more information. They will research your son’s gift and provide you with all the available details.
My husband and I have prepared for our organs to be donated by stating it on our driver’s license, but what would happen in case of the death of a child? We would certainly want to give others life, but don’t know if it would be on our mind immediately. Are doctors required to ask? And how long after death are tissues and organs still useful to harvest? – Lou Ann Crowder, Glen Allen
Members of the organ procurement organization communicate with hospital staff at the time that donation has been deemed a possibility.
If the potential donor is not registered or is under the age of 18, the organ procurement staff members meet with family members to discuss donation options and to answer questions and provide support throughout the entire process.
Organs are recovered as soon as possible after the determination of brain death. The ventilator (breathing machine) will continue to provide oxygen to the organs until arrangements are made for the organ recovery surgery. Tissue may be recovered within 12 to 24 hours.
I have Type II diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all of which are well controlled through lifestyle and meds. I am morbidly obese but on track for bariatric surgery. I am an organ donor, but in reality what could be harvested and used? – Mark, Holly Springs
People living with chronic diseases are encouraged to join the registry. At the time of death, the appropriate medical professionals will review your medical and social histories to determine whether or not you can be a donor. With recent advances in transplantation, many more people than ever before can be donors.
When I donated my daughter’s organs 3 ½ years ago, I didn’t feel that I wanted to be contacted by the recipients. Now that I’ve gotten past my grief, I’d like to know how they are doing. How do I establish some line of communication with them? – Deborah, Apex
If donor families and/or recipients decide to communicate, the identity of both the donor and the recipient are kept anonymous. If the donor family and/or the recipient wish to do so, they can exchange letters through the organ procurement organization who facilitated the donation.
After an exchange of letters, a signed release of information is required by both parties prior to the organ procurement organization releasing any information to the parties. At that point, if both parties would like, a meeting can be arranged at a future date. Either or both parties have the right to remain anonymous and the privacy of both parties is protected by Federal law.
I have a friend currently on kidney dialysis awaiting a transplant. Is there some place that can do testing to see if I could be an eligible donor without a lot of expense? What are the odds of a non-related person of a different race being a match? – Merry Anne Whitfield, Tarboro
If you are considering donating to a friend or family member, contact the person's transplant center for more information. If the transplant candidate does not yet have a transplant center, contact centers in the candidate's area for information.
In order to qualify as a living donor, an individual must be in good general health. Gender and race are not factors in determining a successful match. The living donor must first undergo a blood test to determine blood type compatibility with the recipient. If the donor and recipient have compatible blood types, the donor undergoes a medical history review and a complete physical examination.
Most medical costs associated with living donation are covered by the recipient’s insurance. Living donation is arranged through individual transplant centers according to their protocols.