How Organ Donation Works

A Donated Organ's Path

Organ donors must be especially vigilant about maintaining good health and getting medical examinations.

When any patient dies, the hospital is required to contact the local Organ Procurement Organization (OPO). A member of that organization then determines if you are a designated donor or a potential donor and whether your organs are candidates for donation. Your family is contacted about donation, asked for consent if you didn't register as an organ donor and asked about your medical history.

If it's determined that your organ can be used, it's removed, carefully packaged and delivered to the transplant hospital. If the transplant hospital is in the same geographic area as the location of your body, a representative from the OPO transports your organ in a cooler. However, if the organ's destination is farther away, a contracted team from that hospital or OPO will fly to the organ, take possession of it and deliver it to the transplant hospital. Your organ will then be transplanted into the waiting recipient.


Though you won't be paid for a living donation, the National Living Donor Assistance Center helps people who can't afford the expenses they may incur when donating. This isn't done as an incentive or payment for the donation itself but rather to remove financial obstacles for interested donor candidates. Available assistance includes reimbursement for travel costs and certain nonmedical expenses (such as lodging or meals). Assistance isn't provided for cases in which expenses have been or will be paid by any other state or federal agency, insurance policy or the organ recipient. The organ recipient carries some expectation of compensation for the donor's expenses. However, if the recipient's income is under 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or if hardship can be determined on a case-by-case basis, the program will compensate the donor. Additionally, in some states it's possible to receive a state income tax deduction for lost wages.

Living donors must strive toward good health get regular medical checkups to stay on top of any potential side effects that may develop from donation. And living donors continue to be at financial risk well after the expenses affiliated with donation are paid off. Most health and life insurance companies will not change rates for a donor, although a living donor may encounter higher rates if seeking to change policies or insurers. Additionally, health conditions resulting from organ donation may not be covered by insurance companies. If a living donor ever needs an organ donation himself or herself, the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) will designate the person with points for more immediate attention. While this provides some preference toward the donor, he or she will still have to wait behind more pressing cases.

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