How Donation Works

Every day about 92 people receive organ transplants. However, more organs and tissues are needed than are available, and the number of people waiting for life-saving transplants grows larger every day. If everyone would sign up to donate, we could make a real difference.

About the Donation and Tissue Process

  • WAITING FOR A TRANSPLANT

    When someone’s organ is failing, he or she is placed on the national organ transplant waiting list. The list is very long, and not everyone survives while waiting for an organ.

  • MATCH FOUND

    The national system finds potential matches between a donated organ and someone on the waiting list. Race, celebrity, gender, income and social status are never considered.

  • LIFE SAVED

    Once a match is found, the patient is contacted by his or her transplant team.

  • The organ is recovered from the deceased donor with care and respect, and transported to a hospital for transplantation.

It begins with a choice

The donation process begins with a simple choice: your commitment to help others in need of life-saving transplants and sharing that decision with your family and friends. Once you sign up with the Pennsylvania state donor registry, you provide legal authorization for your organs and tissues to be donated.
Sign up to be an organ donor.

Patient evaluation

Only a small number of people die in circumstances in which they are able to donate their organs. Organs must be transplanted very soon after someone has died, and most eligible donors are victims of severe head trauma, a brain aneurysm or stroke. Unlike organs, it may be possible to donate tissue up to 48 hours after a person has died.

The doctors and hospital personnel will do everything in their power to save the lives of the individual. When a patient has died or is nearing death, hospitals are required by federal law to notify their local organ procurement organization (OPO). The OPO then evaluates the patient to determine if he or she is medically eligible for donation.

Obtaining authorization

If the patient is an eligible donor, the OPO representative will review the state's donor registry to see if the patient is enrolled as a donor. If so, that will serve as legal authorization. If the patient has not registered and there is no other legal authorization for donation, the OPO will seek authorization from the next of kin.

Matching donors with recipients

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) collects and manages all data pertaining to the patient waiting list, organ donation and matching, and transplantation. Once the patient is determined to be eligible for donation and authorization is given, UNOS matches donor organs with potential recipients based on a number of factors, including blood type, medical urgency and time on the waiting list. A patient’s age, gender, race, ethnicity or wealth does not affect who receives available organs.
View more myths and get the truth about organ donation.

Transplanting organs

The donor is taken to the operating room where organs and tissues are recovered. All incisions are surgically closed and do not interfere with customary funeral plans, such as open-casket viewings. 

Time is of the essence, because organs remain viable for transplant only for short periods of time after removal from the donor. Typically the transplant recipient is already at the hospital and may be in the operating room awaiting the arrival of the life-saving organ. Surgical teams work around the clock as needed to transplant the new organs into the waiting recipients.
Learn more about the transplant process