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Becoming an organ donor is quick, easy — and can save multiple lives. Here’s what you need to know.

When you last renewed your driver's license, you may have checked the box to become an organ donor. Or maybe you weren’t ready to make that choice.

If you are registered as a donor, YOU have the potential to save many lives and reduce waiting lists for multiple organs.

"Even with all of our success in transplanting patients and saving lives, there’s still work to do to register more organ and tissue donors," says Dr. Michael Marvin, chair of transplantation and liver surgery for Geisinger. "In many ways, being an organ donor is one of the greatest gifts you can give."

As an organ donor, you can give a second chance at life to up to 8 people through donation of your:

  • Heart
  • Liver
  • Lungs
  • Kidneys
  • Pancreas
  • Intestines

Besides organs, donors can also contribute:

  • Tissue
  • Bones
  • Skin
  • Heart valves
  • Corneas

That means a single organ and tissue donor can save and enhance the lives of up to 50 people. That’s a big impact.

Finding a donor

Anyone who needs an organ transplant is placed on a waiting list until they can be matched with potential donors. Without suitable donors, the list just continues to increase. Criteria for a good match include:

  • Blood type
  • Tissue type
  • Body size
  • The severity of their medical condition
  • How far they live from a donor
  • How long they’ve waited for a new organ

Starting the process

After a potential donor’s death, hospital staff contact the Pennsylvania chapter of Gift of Life, an organization that helps coordinate organ donation in our area. Staff will review things like the donor’s medical history to determine whether they meet organ donation requirements.

If the person was a registered donor, staff will discuss organ/tissue donation options with the family.

If the person wasn’t a registered organ donor, family members could decide on their behalf whether to donate their organs.

As the donation process moves forward, a donor’s personal information is entered into a national database. This may include:

  • Blood type
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Hospital zip code

“This information helps identify the best and most needy recipients for the organs," Dr. Marvin says.

Once a match is found, the transplant team gets to work, quickly transporting organs to a hospital close to the recipient. The transplant itself is typically done within 24 hours.

If you’re concerned about costs related to being a donor, it’s not an issue. Donors’ families don’t pay anything. All medical expenses related to the transplant are covered by the recipient’s insurance.

After the donation

A few weeks after the organ transplant, Gift of Life sends a letter to the donor’s family, letting them know which of their loved one’s organs and tissues were donated.

The donor family receives support through their grieving process including:

  • Bereavement counseling
  • Memorial events to honor their loved one
  • Correspondence opportunities

Recipients of new organs receive follow-up care for life after their transplant. The goal is to identify any potential changes in organ function or overall health and ensure a long healthy life.

How to become an organ donor

It’s easy to register to become an organ donor. If you have a driver's license or state identification card, consider adding the donor designation to your record.

"You don’t need to wait until you renew your driver's license or state identification card,” Dr. Marvin says. “You can do it any time — it's quick and easy to register online at donatelifepa.org.”

You can also register online at donors1.org.

“If you want to become an organ or tissue donor, consider registering,” Dr. Marvin says. "You might just save a life."

Next steps:

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Meet Michael Marvin, MD

Register to become a living donor