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Organ and Tissue Donation: Giving What You Can

By Patricia Chaney February 18, 2018 Posted in: Personal Health , Article

Donating of yourself is an amazing way to save the lives of many people. It can be a little scary to make the decision, though, in part because there are still many misconceptions about organ and tissue donation. However, many people are willing to donate blood, which helps thousands of people every year. Most blood, organ, and tissue donations must be used quickly, so they go to people in your area. It's a great way to make a difference for people in your community.

Here are all the details you need:

Donating Blood

One of the easier and more well-known ways to donate is giving blood at a drive or hospital. Yet, only a small percentage of eligible people donate blood. The American Red Cross estimates that about 38 percent of the population is eligible to donate, but only about 10 percent actually do. In general, you need to be at least 17 years old, be in good overall health, and weigh at least 110 pounds.

When you donate blood, you give about a pint, which is close to one unit of blood. Every day about 36,000 units of blood are needed across the country. People of all ages need transfusions because of illness, trauma, accidents, cancer, and other reasons.

Even if you're squeamish about needles, donating is a pretty simple process. You arrive at a blood drive, fill out a medical history form, have a mini physical, donate blood, and have refreshments. The whole process takes about an hour, with the blood draw only lasting about 10 to 15 minutes. You can safely donate every 56 days.

Everyone eligible can donate blood, and people with certain blood types can have an even bigger effect. Here are some quick facts about blood donation:

  • Blood can be used as whole blood or separated into components — platelets, red blood cells, and plasma — to be used for different people. So one donation can help multiple people.
  • Type O-negative blood is considered the universal blood type and is most requested. Hispanic and African American people are more likely than others to have this blood type.
  • AB-positive blood types are universal plasma donors, but only about 3 percent of the population has this blood type.

Blood drives happen all the time. Even if you're unsure, show up to a local drive and see what it's like.

Organ and Tissue Donation

Organ donation feels like a bigger commitment then blood donation, but it saves the lives of thousands of people. The United States is experiencing an organ shortage, with more than 116,000 people on the national waiting list and new additions every day, according to There just aren't enough available organ donors to meet the need.

There are two types of organ donation: deceased donor and living donor. Deceased donor is what you may be most familiar with; this is when organs are used after someone's death. About 54 percent of U.S. adults are registered organ donors. Misconceptions cause some people not to register as a donor, so let's look at the facts.

Regardless of whether you choose to be an organ donor, members of your medical team will do everything they can to save your life in the event that you experience a medical emergency. Organ donation status is not considered until a physician has declared brain death, and only at that point does the organ donation process begin. Procuring organs is a surgical procedure and all incisions are closed afterward. A person can be an organ donor and still have an open-casket funeral.

Living donations happen most often when someone you know is in need of a transplant. You can donate a kidney, part of a liver or lung, part of your pancreas, and part of your intestines. You can also donate cells such as plasma, marrow, bone, or skin. It's also possible to be a charitable donor, meaning you don't know the recipient; you simply choose to give a kidney to the best-matched person on the waiting list. A living donation requires a detailed medical and psychological evaluation to ensure the health of the donor as well as the recipient.

How to Become an Organ Donor

You can register as an organ donor when you renew your driver's license, through your state donor registry, or through the National Donate Life Registry. You can also register to donate marrow through organizations such as Be the Match. Once you've decided to become a donor, talk about your decision with your family so they understand your wishes.

No matter what you feel comfortable with, any donation you make can save lives. Consider attending your next local blood drive or signing up as an organ donor with your state. The more people who join in, the more lives that can be saved.

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