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Questions and Straight Answers About Donors

Extracts taken from UKTSSA (United Kingdom Transplant Support Service Authority) booklet.

When was the first transplant?
A cornea was first transplanted in 1905. Blood transfusion became established in 1918 and the first successful kidney transplant was in 1954. The first heart transplants took place in 1967.

What can be transplanted?
Kidneys, heart, liver, pancreas, small bowel, corneas, heart valves, and bone can all be transplanted. Skin can be used to treat patients with severe burns. Techniques are improving all the time and it may soon be practical to transplant other parts of the body.

How do they know you are really dead?
Two different doctors have to carry out a series of tests independently in order to confirm that a patient is "brain stem dead". The standards are very strict and are accepted medically, legally and ethically in the UK and most other countries in the world.

Brain stem death usually results because of severe trauma to the brain which causes the brain stem to die. This could be brought about by a major road accident resulting in head injuries, or by a fatal stoke, when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted.

Can't they keep you alive with machines?
Machines can keep the blood circulating after death and this allows organs to be used for transplantation, but a patient who is brain stem dead will never recover.

Will they just let you die if they know you want to be a donor?
No. The doctors looking after the patient have to make every possible effort to save the patient's life. That is their first duty. If, despite their efforts, the patient dies and is certified brain stem dead, only then can organ donation be considered and a completely different team of doctors would be called in.

Why are even more donors needed?
Because transplantation is so successful, more and more patients have a chance of benefiting from transplantation. There are not enough donors to match the number of patients waiting for a transplantation.

Why do we need to agree to become a donor?
Because in the United Kingdom organs from a potential donor are not taken for transplantation purposes without the relative's permission.

Carrying a donor card or putting your name on the NHS Organ Register makes everyone aware of your wishes and makes it easier for them to agree. To help this process along, we ask people to make sure that their families know that they wish to be a donor.

Can you donate an organ when you are still alive?
Yes, in some cases . The most common is a kidney as it is possible to live a normal lifestyle with only one kidney. Part of a liver can be transplanted and it is possible to donate part of a lung or small bowel.

Live donations are nearly always between close relatives, often between parent and child, or between siblings, partly because blood group compatibility and tissue type match gives higher possibility of success.

Can a donor be under sixteen?
Yes, if he or she has expressed such a wish and the parents agree to donation.

Can older people be donors?
In the case of corneas and bone donations, age does not matter. For other organs it is the person's physical condition, not age, which is the deciding factor. Doctors decide in each case whether it is possible to use them.

Does the colour of my skin matter?
Yes and No, Successful transplants are frequently carried out between people from different races, wherever the matching criteria are met.

There is a better chance of getting a very close match if donor and recipient are of the same race, so it is important that we have donors from all races.

It is now known that some ethnic groups are only likely to be prone to kidney disease of a type that produces kidney failure. As a result, even more donors are needed among these groups, to ensure access to successful treatment.


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