National Donor Day, observed on February 14th each year, is an opportunity to raise awareness and educate about tissue, eye, and organ donation. In Michigan, there are more than 3000 people waiting for organ donation and, nationally, 22 patients die waiting for an organ each day.
Every donation counts and one donor can improve up to 75 lives through 8 life-saving organs as well as corneas and tissues. The lungs, liver, pancreas, heart, kidneys, and intestines can all be donated. National Donor Day is also a day to focus on blood, platelet, and marrow donation.
According to Gift of Life Michigan, frequently asked questions about organ and tissue donation, and their answers, are as follows:
Can someone who dies at home be a donor?
When someone dies at home organ donation is not logistically possible, but tissue and eye donation may be. Gift of Life Michigan should be contacted as soon as possible to determine if there is an opportunity to donate. Our 24/7 donor services center can be reached at 866-500-5801. We will work with your family to make arrangements for the donation surgery, if medically possible.
Will doctors work as hard to save my life if they know I’m a donor?
Yes, absolutely. This is perhaps the most common myth about organ donation. When a patient arrives at the hospital, the number one priority is to save his or her life. Doctors and other medical personnel have both a moral and legal obligation to give their patients the best care possible. Organ donation is not considered or even discussed until every effort to save the patient’s life has been tried and, unfortunately, failed.
Most organ donations are given by patients who have irreversible brain function, require a ventilator, and – after evaluation, testing and documentation – are declared brain dead.
A brain-dead patient on a ventilator is dead, with the ventilator artificially supporting the function of the heart and lungs. This should not be confused with a patient in a coma, who is still alive and will not be considered a potential organ donor. There is extensive evaluation, testing and documentation done by doctors to ensure that a patient in a coma is not mistaken for one who is brain dead.
Only when death is imminent, or death has been declared will the Michigan Organ Donor Registry be checked to see if the patient intended to donate. By law, the medical team treating you is completely separate from the transplant team.
Does my religion support donation?
Most major religions approve of organ, tissue and eye donation and consider it the ultimate act of human kindness and generosity. The largest religions in Michigan – including Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, and Islam – support donation or leave the choice up to the individual.
For more information on your religion’s stance on organ donation, you can consult this large list of specific religious organizations and their positions on donation. Anyone who is still unsure or uncomfortable with the religious implications of donation is encouraged to speak with their religious leader.
I have health problems. Can I still be a donor?
Yes, anyone is a potential organ donor despite medical conditions, so please don't rule yourself out! A diabetic, for example, might have unhealthy kidneys but a very strong heart or lungs. Likewise, an individual with cancer will likely still be able to donate some organs and tissue, depending on their cancer type and medical condition. Donors with other medical conditions, such as hepatitis or HIV, are able to save or prolong the lives of who already have hepatitis or HIV.
Medical criteria for organ donation changes as medical advances occur, and a physician evaluates all potential donors at the time of death to determine what can be used to help others. We therefore encourage anyone, regardless of their medical history, to register as an organ donor and communicate their wishes to their family.
Am I too old to sign up?
No, there are no age limits to register. There have been many successful transplants from donors over the age of 50. According to organdonor.gov, one of the oldest organ donors in the U.S. was 92, and his donated liver saved the life of a 69-year-old woman! Don’t rule yourself out because of age.
Can I indicate specific organs or tissue to be donated?
Joining the Michigan Organ Donor Registry gives authorization to donate all organs and tissues that are healthy enough to help another person. However, people wishing to limit their gift may create a separate document to indicate specific organs and tissues they want to donate. They should keep this in their own possession, signed and dated, and let their families know where it is kept for future reference.
The gift of a vascular composite allograft (such as a hand or face transplant) is only provided with special authorization from the donor's family at the time of donation, it is not included in the gifts offered through signing up on the Donor Registry.
Why is it important to register as a donor?
Your gift will be used to help others through transplantation, therapy, research and education.
One person can donate up to eight life-saving organs, as well as tissues and corneas. Donated tissue can help up to 75 people, and be used to repair wounds, burns, and joints. Donated corneas can restore vision or relieve painful swelling.
Organs and tissue that cannot be transplanted are valuable to research and education, allowing surgical teams to practice their transplant skills or contribute to research projects. For example, islet cells recovered from a donated pancreas could help researchers trying to find a cure for diabetes.
Registering as a donor is therefore an important step for anyone who wishes to help others through the gift of organ and tissue donation. If you register to become a donor, you relieve your grieving family of having to make a decision when you die. Having your wishes documented also ensures that your decision to donate will be carried out, if medically possible.
Will I still be able to have an open casket at the funeral?
Yes, donors are afforded the utmost respect and care, and neither organ nor tissue donation need interfere with open casket viewings.
How do I sign up?
Why should I donate?
More than 3,000 people are on the waiting list for a life-saving organ transplant in Michigan, with more than 113,000 on the national waiting list. People die waiting every single day because the number in need of transplants greatly outpaces the number of organs available. There is an especially critical need for hearts, livers and kidneys.
Your decision to someday donate your organs and tissue could have a major impact in the lives of others. One donor can save up to eight lives, and improve the lives of up to 75 more:
You can learn more about the benefits of organ donation here.
How much does it cost to donate?
Nothing. Donation won’t cost your estate or family anything. All procedures related to the donation are covered by Gift of Life Michigan.
Consider becoming an organ and tissue donor today and make a difference in the life of a patient in need.