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Tissue donation

Alternative Names
organ donation, the gift of life

Each year hundreds of thousands of people receive tissue and organs that have been donated by other people. These transplants do more than enhance other people's lives. In many cases, lives are saved through these generous donations. Tissue that has been donated can be used to repair defects and injuries, and restore mobility. And surgeons are now able to transplant bones, tendons, and ligaments. However, there are not enough tissue donations for those in need. Thousands of more people could benefit each year from tissue donations and organ donations.

Tissue that can be donated include:
  • heart valves
  • skin
  • ligaments
  • tendons
  • bones
  • major blood vessels
  • fascia, which is the connective tissue that covers the muscles
  • corneas
What is the information for this topic?
Nearly everyone can be a tissue donor. Eye tissue can be used even if a donor is older, wears glasses, or is visually impaired. In fact, eye donations can even be made by people who are blind, as long as their blindness was not caused by corneal disease. Tissue donations cannot be taken from people who have:
  • an infection in the blood known as sepsis
  • cancer
  • tested positive or are at risk for HIV
Tissue removal is performed shortly after a person dies. Donated tissue is then processed into almost 400 forms that are freeze-dried, frozen, or used fresh. The tissue is then used in orthopaedic, neurologic, plastic, cardiovascular, and oral reconstructive surgery. For instance, tissue can be used:
  • to repair bone defects
  • to reconstruct hip and knee joints
  • to treat burn injuries
  • to fuse or correct scoliosis, a curvature of the back
  • to replace bone loss from trauma
  • to salvage limbs following tumour surgery
  • for plastic surgery
  • for corneal transplants
  • for dental surgery
Here are a few facts about tissue donation:
  • Tissue donation involves no disfigurement to the donor. An open casket at the funeral is still possible.
  • As many as 20 people can benefit from one donation.
  • There is no cost to the donor family for tissue donation.
  • All major religions support tissue donation.
  • A person who has signed a donor card will receive the same medical care as someone who has not. Some people worry that if the hospital knows that they are a potential organ donor, they will not do everything possible to save them. This isn't true.
  • Information about the donor is released to the recipients only if the donor family allows it.
A person who wants to be an organ or tissue donor after his or her death can sign a card indicating his or her wishes. This can be done when renewing a driver's licence, or by filling out a donor card. These cards are available through several organ and tissue donor organisations. It is important that potential donors talk with family members about these wishes ahead of time. Family members are the people that are usually asked to consent to donation. This decision is often made under the most difficult circumstances. But this decision is much easier if the dying person has told them in advance that he or she wants to be a tissue donor. Many families are comforted by the fact that their family member's donation improved someone's quality of life.

Author: Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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