Organ donation is giving an organ to help someone who needs a transplant. Kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, pancreas and the small bowel can all be transplanted.
Transplants are one of the most miraculous achievements of modern medicine and can save or transform the lives of other people. However, they depend completely on donors and their families consenting to organ or tissue donation.
One donor can save the life and improve the quality of life for up to 9 people.
The more people who pledge to donate their organs and tissue after their death, the more people stand to benefit. By choosing to join the NHS Organ Donor Register you could help to make sure life goes on for many others.
Around 200 people in Northern Ireland are on the transplant waiting list and sadly around 15 people die each year waiting for an organ. Despite support for organ donation being extremely high, just 31% of the population here are on the organ donor register. Only 55% of families agree to donation going ahead if they are unaware of their loved one’s wishes.
To decide whether or not you wish to become a donor after you have died is something very personal and it is important that everyone makes their own decision.
How to Register
In Northern Ireland organs and tissue from a potential donor will only be used if that is your wish. You can indicate your wishes in a number of ways such as telling a relative or close friend, by carrying an organ donor card or recording your wishes on the NHS Organ Donor Register. Putting your name on the NHS Organ Donor Register makes it easier for the NHS to establish your wishes and for those closest to you in life to follow them.
The majority of relatives agree to organ donation when they know their loved ones wishes, so it is important that you discuss organ and tissue donation with the people closest to you so that, if the time ever comes, they will find it easier to confirm your wishes to NHS professionals.
You can join the NHS Organ Donor Register by:
- Filling in a form online- click here
- Calling the NHS Donor Line on (0300) 123 2323 (Lines are open 24 hours a day all year round. Calls are charged at your contracted rate for local calls)
- By texting SAVE to 62323
For more information, contact the Organ Donation Specialist Nurse, Heather Savage, Tel: (028) 9041 1470
Procedure and Suitability
Only a very small number of people die in circumstances where they are able to donate their organs.
Organs are only removed for transplantation after a person has died. Death is confirmed by doctors at consultant level who are entirely independent of the transplant team. Death is confirmed in exactly the same way for people who donate organs as for those who do not.
Most organ donors are patients who die as a result of a brain haemorrhage, severe head injury, or stroke and who are on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit. In these circumstances, death is diagnosed by brain stem tests. There are very clear and strict standards and procedures for doing these tests and they are always performed by two experienced doctors.
The ventilator provides oxygen which keeps the heart beating and blood circulating after death. These donors are called heartbeating donors. Organs such as hearts, which deteriorate very quickly without an oxygen supply, are usually only donated by a heartbeating donor.
Patients who die in hospital but are not on a ventilator can, in some circumstances, donate their kidneys, and in certain circumstances, other organs. They are called non-heartbeating donors.
Consent and Common Questions
Many people find giving consent to donate their family member’s organs a challenging decision but one that brought a small piece of positivity to a traumatic experience and somehow gave meaning to their loved one’s death.
Below are some questions which may help you make your decision.
Can I be sure doctors will try to save the life of my loved one if they are registered as a potential organ donor?
Yes. Health professionals have a duty of care to try and save life first. If, despite their efforts, the patient dies, organ and tissue donation can then be considered and a completely different team of donation and transplant specialists would be called in.
Does donation leave the body disfigured?
Organs and tissue are always removed with the greatest of care and respect. This takes place in a normal operating theatre under sterile conditions by specialist doctors. Afterwards the surgical incision is carefully closed and covered by a dressing in the normal way.
Tissue can be removed in an operating theatre, mortuary or funeral home. The operation is carried out by specialist healthcare professionals who always ensure that the donor is treated with the utmost respect and dignity. Only those organs and tissue specified by the donor or their family will be removed.
Is it possible for family to see the body after donation?
Yes. Families are given the opportunity to spend time with their loved one after the operation if they wish and this is facilitated by the specialist nurse. Arrangements for viewing the body after donation are the same as after any death.