August 29, 2003

Frequently asked questions about organ and bone marrow donation

Featured Image

Dr. Ravi Chari, center, performs a liver transplant Wednesday. He is assisted by Dr. James G. McDowell, left and Karin Mayes, RN. Dana Johnson.

Tennessee Donor Services representatives will be on hand during the kick-off of Employee Celebration Month Tuesday, Sept. 2 to answer questions regarding organ, tissue and bone marrow donation.

1. How many lives can I save if I donate my organs?

According to Tennessee Donor Services, doctors can save up to seven lives and improve the lives of more than 50 others. The organs that can be transplanted are: liver, kidney, pancreas, kidney/pancreas (can be transplanted at the same time), heart, lung, heart/lung (can be transplanted at the same time) and intestines. More than 80,000 people across the U.S. are currently awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant.

2. How will my organs be placed?

The organs are distributed locally first and if no match is found, they are then offered regionally, and then nationally, until a recipient is found. Every attempt is made to place donor organs.

3. How are organ donors matched with recipients?

The matching process contains six steps: 1) An organ is donated. 2) The donor's information is put into the UNOS transplant information database. 3) The database lists patients who match that organ. 4) The hospital where the patient is to be transplanted is notified of an available organ. 5) The transplant team considers whether to accept the organ for the patient. 6) The patient who will receive the organ is notified that an organ is available.

Many different medical and logistical characteristics are considered for an organ to be distributed to the best-matched potential recipient. While the specific criteria differ for various organs, matching criteria generally include: blood type and size of the organ(s) needed, time spent awaiting a transplant, the relative distance between donor and recipient. For certain organs other factors are vital, including: the medical urgency of the recipient, the degree of immune-system match between donor and recipient, whether the recipient is a child or an adult.

4. Tell me about bone marrow donation.

Successful transplantation requires carefully matching the donor’s and patient’s tissue types. More than 11,000 individuals have donated marrow for unrelated patients since the National Marrow Donor Program began operation in 1987. Nearly 50,000 have donated for family members.

Marrow is found in the cavity of the body’s bones. It is removed through a hollow surgical needle inserted several times in the pelvic bone All donors receive either general or regional anesthesia. Marrow constantly regenerates itself – the donor’s system will replace the extracted marrow completely within several weeks.

5. What are some statistics regarding organ recipients?

Currently, there are 2,400 children on the organ transplant waiting list.

An average of 16 people die every day waiting for an organ to become available for transplant. More than 750,000 Americans benefit from a life-enhancing tissue transplant each year. More than 46,500 have better vision each year through corneal transplants.

6. How can I become an organ or marrow donor?

To be an organ/tissue donor, simply sign a donor card or driver’s license and tell your family of your wishes. To become a potential bone marrow or stem cell donor you must be between the ages of 18 and 60 to provide a blood sample for testing and registration on the National Marrow Donor Program’s database.

7. Who am I helping by donating bone marrow?

More than 70 different diseases are treatable by a blood stem cell transplant. Each year, more than 30,000 patients are diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses treatable by blood stem cell transplants.

8. How do I find out more about donation?

Organ/tissue donation:

Tennessee Donor Services

(615) 234-5265 local


National Minority Organ/Tissue Transplant Education Program


Coalition on Donation

(en Espanol)


Coalition on Donation (African American)


United Network for Organ Sharing


Blood donation:

American Association of Blood Banks


Bone marrow donation:

National Marrow Donor Program


—Compiled by Jessica Pasley