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U.S. Government Information on Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation
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Home  >  About Donation & Transplantation

HOW PEOPLE HEAR ABOUT DONATION

People learn about donation in various ways.

Sometimes people hear about donation in school or driver's education, from their faith leader or physician, a television program or a news story. Some people hear about the need for donors from someone who is waiting for or had a transplant. Still others may learn about donation from the numerous community educators in the donation field who sponsor all kinds of events and outreach efforts to get the donation message in the public eye.

However they learn about donation, a seed is planted and an idea germinates and hopefully leads to donor sign-ups.


What Can Be Donated

Organs

The organs of the body that can be transplanted at the current time are kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, and the intestines. Kidney/pancreas transplants, heart/lung transplants, and other combined organ transplants also are performed. Organs cannot be stored and must be used within hours of removing them from the donor's body. Most donated organs are from people who have died, but a living individual can donate a kidney, part of the pancreas, part of a lung, part of the liver, or part of the intestine.

Tissue

Corneas, the middle ear, skin, heart valves, bone, veins, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments can be stored in tissue banks and used to restore sight, cover burns, repair hearts, replace veins, and mend damaged connective tissue and cartilage in recipients.

Stem Cells

Healthy adults between the ages of 18-60 can donate blood stem cells. In order for a blood stem cell transplant to be successful, the patient and the blood stem cell donor must have a closely matched tissue type or human leukocyte antigen (HLA). Since tissue types are inherited, patients are more likely to find a matched donor within their own racial and ethnic group. There are three sources of blood stem cells that healthy volunteers can donate:

Marrow-This soft tissue is found in the interior cavities of bones. It is a major site of blood cell production and is removed to obtain stem cells.

Peripheral blood stem cells-The same types of stem cells found in marrow can be pushed out into a donor's bloodstream after the donor receives daily injections of a medication called filgrastim. This medication increases the number of stem cells circulating in the blood and provides a source of donor stem cells that can be collected in a way that is similar to blood donation.

Cord blood stem cells-The umbilical cord that connected a newborn to the mother during pregnancy contains blood that has been shown to contain high levels of blood stem cells. Cord blood can be collected and stored in large freezers for a long period of time and, therefore, offers another source of stem cells available for transplanting into patients.

Blood and Platelets

Blood and platelets are formed by the body, go through a life cycle, and are continuously replaced throughout life. This means that you can donate blood and platelets more than once. It is safe to donate blood every 56 days and platelets every four weeks.

Blood is stored in a blood bank according to type (A, B, AB, or O) and Rh factor (positive or negative). Blood can be used whole, or separated into packed red cells, plasma, and platelets, all of which have different lifesaving uses. It takes only about 10 minutes to collect a unit (one pint) of blood, although the testing and screening process means that you will be at the donation center close to an hour.

Platelets are tiny cell fragments that circulate throughout the blood and aid in blood clotting. Platelets can be donated without donating blood. When a specific patient needs platelets, but does not need blood, a matching donor is found and platelets are separated from the rest of the blood which is returned to the donor. The donor's body will replace the missing platelets within a few hours.

 


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