What You Need to Know to Be a Donor for Organ Transplants

A doctor checks a patient to see if she qualifies to be a donor for organ transplants.

Contributed by Nathan McVeigh

Every 10 minutes, someone is added to the organ donation waiting list. Of those on the list, roughly 20 percent will never receive what they need. Although these statistics are encouraging people to become organ donors, unfortunately many people are still moderately ignorant as to what the decision requires. Whether you’re a caregiver for someone in need or perhaps someone who can inform others about what organ transplants require, here is some important information to keep in mind when it comes to becoming a donor.


What can be donated?

This is a common question many people have about transplants in general. You should know that while you can donate organs, many people can donate stem cells, tissues, blood cells and platelets. When it comes to organ transplants specifically, many people are unaware that donating portions of organs can be just as effective in certain cases. When it comes to making a decision about being a donor, remember that it might not result in you losing an entire organ. The most common organ transplants are heart transplants, kidney transplants, lung transplants, liver transplants, pancreas transplants, and intestine transplants.


Who can donate?

People are able to donate organs whether they are living or not. The advantage of donating while living, of course, is the opportunity and reward of saving a life. There are always going to be various  ramifications of surgery, but knowing you donated in service to someone else can make it all worthwhile.

Organ transplants do require healthy sources, but only in the sense that they are not extremely diseased. The fact of the matter is you don’t necessarily have to be in the world’s greatest shape to be an organ donor. Evidently, the chances that you are qualified to donate are much greater than the chances that you won’t be able to donate. According to WebMD, unless you are someone with HIV, (aggressive) cancer, or a serious infection, you shouldn’t have to worry about ineligibility.


What age requirements are there?

It’s easy to become apprehensive about organ donation, especially when people think they’re either too old or too young to make a difference. If someone thinks they’re too old, teach them that it’s not a matter of age, but health quality. There is no age limit for organ donation, only health limitations. Encourage them to consult their doctors to discuss their health eligibility.

In a legal sense, anyone under 18 is too young to enable their choice to be an organ donor. However, parents and legal guardians can provide authorization for this to happen. One key consideration is that many children and infants are on waiting lists, just like adults, but having a perfectly healthy adult heart won’t help a young child who needs a new heart.


How do I become an organ donor?

Becoming an organ donor is straightforward, and designed to be as easy as possible. There are three important, general steps you can take:

    1. Register with your state donor registry.
    2. Register with the Donate Life registry.
    3. Designate your decision on your driver’s license.
    4. Inform your family and loved ones.

This process is for anyone who opts to be an organ donor once they’re deceased. It’s a way to put a plan in place once that person can no longer communicate his or her wishes.

The first three steps in this process ensure that people are making their wishes to be a donor known publicly. The final step is an added precaution that will ensure these wishes are maintained should any doubt arise. While it doesn’t happen very often, it’s possible that when someone dies but wants to donate, his or her family will have to sign a consent form in order for any organ transplants to occur.



No matter who you are, you can make a difference. If you’re in good health, you can be a donor; if you’re not in good health, you can be an informer. If you’re engaged with a local community, your presence, knowledge, and education can do more than if you weren’t there at all. You can save hundreds, if not thousands of lives, just by telling people what you know. Here’s one way you can get started.