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The Facts about Organ Donation and How You Can Save a Life


Every 10 minutes, another person in the United States is added to the organ transplant waiting list. 

And while almost everyone (95 percent of people in one frequently cited survey) expresses support for organ donation, only 54 percent of Americans are registered organ donors. That proportion is even lower in Tennessee, at 38 percent, says Tennessee Donor Services.

Why the gap? Experts say misconceptions about organ donation and transplantation often discourage people from taking action.

Organ donation can save and change lives of individuals and families who so desperately need hope. In fact, one organ donor can save as many as eight lives. Donation of tissue can help many more, from people recovering from severe burns to children born with heart defects.

Here are some facts to bust some of those myths, raise awareness and encourage folks to learn about donation and talk to their friends and family.

Myth No. 1: Doctors and nurses won’t do everything they can to save me if I register to be an organ and tissue donor.

Fact: Your care team’s goal is to save your life. You’ll receive the same level of care regardless of whether you are registered as a potential donor. Organ and tissue recovery occur only after all efforts to save a life have been exhausted and death has been legally declared.

It’s not like a “Grey’s Anatomy” plotline -- federal law requires that the medical team treating a potential donor be completely different from the transplant team.

Myth No. 2: Famous or wealthy people get transplants quicker.

Fact: Organ recipients are selected based on objective details. These include location, length of time on the waiting list, medical urgency and tissue matching. A national computerized system is used to match available organs with potential recipients.

Myth No. 3: If I am a donor, I can’t have an open casket viewing at my funeral.

Fact: Someone who is an organ and tissue donor can have a traditional funeral service with an open casket viewing. The donation operation does not disfigure the body. Through the entire donation process, the body is treated with care and dignity and is reconstructed after organs and tissues are removed.

Myth No. 4: Donating an organ is against my religion.

Fact: Don’t disqualify yourself too quickly. Organ donation is consistent with the teachings of most major religions. If you have questions about how organ donation fits with your religion, talk to someone in authority in your faith. 

Myth No. 5: I’m too old or too sick to donate.

Fact: There is no specific age cutoff for donating organs or tissue, and few medical conditions exclude people from donating something. Careful tests are done to make sure organs and tissue are suitable for donation. Doctors will determine based on your medical condition at the time of death whether your organs or tissue can be donated. Again, don’t disqualify yourself too quickly.

Myth No. 6: There’s nothing I can do while I’m still alive.

Fact: As many as four of every 10 organ transplants is from a living donor. Donation of one of two kidneys is most common, but living donors also may donate one of two lobes of their liver, a lung or portion of a lung, or portions of the pancreas and intestines.

Living donors may also donate bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells for patients facing cancers and other diseases. 

Sharing your support for organ donation with your family and friends, both in person and on social media, can also help raise awareness and encourage others to register. 

Learn more about organ and tissue donation

Myth No. 7: If I’ve checked off to be an organ donor on my Tennessee driver’s license, that’s all I need to do.

Fact: You can register as a donor in one of two ways. The first is to check the organ donation box each and every time you renew your driver’s license; if you don’t check it every time, you’ll be taken out of the registry. The second is to go and complete your registration online. 

Learn more about Vanderbilt’s Transplant Center, a leader in organ transplantation for decades.