General Health

From My Heart to Yours: Facts about Organ & Other Bodily Donations

Ah, February 14… the annual day for celebrating love, affection and body part donations?! Yes, for National Donor Day!

113,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants, but in 2018 only 17,500 donors gave that gift.1 This month’s issue of is dedicated to raising awareness on the importance and need of organ donation* and transplantation, offering resources on how to become a donor and dispelling the myths. National Donor Day on February 14 spotlights all types of donation: organ, corneal, tissue, stem cell/cord blood, bone marrow, blood/platelets. But this list is evolving…

Hands and faces were added to the list of possible transplants in 2014.2

Just in the last decade successful hand, face and other transplants were completed with the help of immunosuppressive drug developments. Termed VCA (vascularized composite allograft), these complicated surgeries involve multiple transplantations in one, such as skin, bone, tissue, etc. Not even 200 have been performed worldwide as of January 2018.3

More common bodily donation gifts include: 4, 5, 6



We’ve all heard of blood drives, right? Every two seconds someone needs a blood transfusion, and every 30 seconds someone is in need of platelets. Blood donations can be used whole or separated into packed red cells, plasma and platelets. Donated blood is stored in banks according to type (A, B, AB, or O) and Rh factor (positive or negative) until needed by a patient. If only platelets are being donated to a recipient, they are separated from the rest of the donor’s blood, (which is then returned to the donor). The donor’s body replaces those missing platelets within just a few hours.



The need is staggering… Every 10 minutes someone is added to the national transplant waiting list and 8,000 deaths result each year because organ matches are never found. The good news is a single organ donor can save up to eight lives! Deceased donors can gift:

1. Face
2. Both Hands
3. Heart
4. Intestines
5. Both Kidneys
6. Liver
7. Both Lungs
8. Pancreas


Living donors can gift:

1. Intestine (portion)
2. 1 Kidney
3. 1 Lung
4. Liver (portion)
5. Pancreas



Stem cells are the body’s master cells and can be used to regenerate or repair damaged human tissue.7 Specialized blood stem cells can come from three sources:

  1. Bone marrow
  2. Umbilical cord blood stem cells
  3. Peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC)

For a successful stem cell transplant, patient and donor must have a closely matched tissue type or human leukocyte antigen (HLA). While a family member is the most likely match, 70% of patients do not have a matching familial donor.



A single tissue donor can heal the lives of 75+ people! For instance, a heart valve transplant can save the life of a child born with heart defects. Donated tissue, such as the following, are stored in banks similar to blood banks:

1. Bone
2. Cartilage
3. Connective Tissue
4. Corneas
5. Heart Valves
6. Ligaments
7. Skin
8. Tendons
9. The Middle Ear
10. Veins



The cornea (the clear part of the eye over the iris and pupil) can be damaged from disease, injury or birth defect. More than 95% of all corneal transplants are successful in restoring the recipient’s vision. There were over 85,000 corneal transplants in 2018. Corneal donors don’t have to “match” recipients, so donors are universal. The white part of the eye (sclera) can also be donated and is used to rebuild the eye. Donated cornea and sclera are both used in glaucoma treatments.8



95% of Americans favor donation, but only 58% are registered donors. That may be due to misconceptions about donor eligibility. It is important to understand who can be a donor:

  • Adults and children as young as newborns (dependent on state regulations and/or parent consent)
  • Non-resident aliens
  • Individuals with existing health conditions
  • Followers of varying religions (Find your religious views on donation here)

Matched donors and recipients share similar blood and tissue types and body size. Recipient patients are prioritized by degree of illness, geographical distance from the available organ or tissue, and time on the waiting list.

Transplants are usually most successful when the donor and recipient are of the same racial or ethnic backgrounds; 58% of the national organ transplant waiting list belong to one or more of the following races and are in need of compatible donors:

• African American/Black
• Asian/Pacific Islander
• Hispanic/Latino
• American Indian/Alaska Native



  1. Donors can be of any age.
  2. Registering as a donor will not affect medical care or life-saving efforts by doctors or emergency responders.
  3. Donors can have pre-existing medical conditions.
  4. It is not legal to sell your organs, per The National Organ Transplant Act.
  5. Donors do not have to be U.S. citizens.
  6. Income, race or social status are never considerations for receiving a donated organ.
  7. Except in the cases of VCA (hands or face) organ donations, deceased donors will not be disfigured and can have an open casket funeral service.



Registering with your state as a deceased organ donor authorizes donation of any of the body parts above when you die (under most circumstances). To register as an organ donor online, you will need to choose your state and complete a form with contact information as well as your birth date and possibly your social security number (or the last four digits).

Some states will redirect you to their motor vehicle division, as most states also offer organ donation designations on resident drivers’ licenses. Some also offer specialty license plates with a similar designation.

40% of organ donations are made by the living. Most are “directed” (the recipient is known, usually a family member or close friend); though some are altruistic, “non-directed” donations to any patient in need.11, 12 Donors wishing the latter can find a local transplant center here.



Costs associated with deceased donations are usually paid for by the recipient, not the donor nor donor’s family or estate.

Costs incurred by a living donor are usually covered by the recipient’s insurance plan, though any complications or resulting follow-up may not be, including health issues uncovered during donor evaluation.13 All aspects of living donor transplants should be memorialized with a legal agreement or contract ahead of surgery.

How better to show your love for life this Donor Day than by giving to someone in need?

*Please note when we refer to ‘organ donation’ we mean all types of physical body donations, as listed above.

1Donate Life America
2Health Resources & Services Administration
4Organ Donation and Transplantation Alliance
5Donate Life America
6Health Resources & Services Administration
7Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER)
8Eye Bank Association of America
9Donate Life America
11Health Resources & Services Administration
12Donate Life America
13United Network for Organ Sharing

Download the Article PDF


  1. Register to be a Deceased Donor
  2. Find a Transplant Center to be a Living Donor
  3. Find a Local Blood Drive
  4. QUIZ: Fact or Fable? The Truth About Organ Donation
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