Despite continuing efforts at public education, many questions still exist. Below are the most frequently asked questions and answers about donation.
Q: Who can be a donor?
A: Suitability criteria vary depending on the organ or tissue and its condition at the time of death, but generally anyone who has given first-person authorization through the Donate Life Texas Registry, or whose next -of -kin has provided authorization, can be a donor.
Q: How do you register to be a donor in the state of Texas?
A: There are three ways to register as an organ and tissue donor in the state of Texas: on the registry’s website: www.DonateLifeTexas.org (www.donevidatexas.org); at any Department of Public Safety (DPS) office in the state when obtaining your driver’s license or ID; or when renewing your vehicle registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Q: When I sign up to be a donor, what does it mean?
A: When you sign the registry, it means you are providing LEGAL authorization to become an organ, eye and tissue donor upon your death. If you are a candidate for donation at the time of your death, your family cannot revoke your decision. According to the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA), the organ procurement organization (OPO, i.e., LifeGift) will not seek affirmation of the organ donation gift from the donor’s family, but will notify the family of the patient’s wishes and decision to be a donor. This is state law.
Q: How do I know that I’m on the registry?
A: If you registered with the Department of Public Safety (DPS) when you renewed or obtained your driver’s license, there will be a heart in the bottom right-hand corner of your license. If you register online or when you renew your vehicle registration, your driver’s license will NOT have a heart. It’s important to note that regardless of where you register – at the DPS, online or at the DMV, your information goes to the same database. It is not necessary for you to register in multiple places.
Q: Can I revoke my decision? If so, how?
A: Yes, you can revoke your decision to become a registered donor, but this does not prevent your next-of-kin from deciding to donate on your behalf.
Please note that the DPS cannot revoke your registry status. Only you can do this by logging onto www.donatelifetexas.org or contacting a Donate Life Texas representative. You may call 1-800-633-6562. If you wish to be removed from the registry, you must submit your request in writing.
Q: What if something happens to me when I’m out of the state? Will my registration still work?
A: All matters concerning organ and tissue donation are under the jurisdiction of each state’s or country’s respective laws. While your donor registration will not serve as a legally binding authorization for donation outside of the state, it will serve as a clear indication of your wish to donate and will be shared with your family when they are approached by the local organ procurement organization (OPO).
Q: My family members do not believe in donation. How can I make sure that I will be a donor?
A: Sometimes, resistance to donation is simply an unwillingness to contemplate the death of a loved one. The best thing you can do is register your wishes to become an organ and tissue donor at www.DonateLifeTexas.org. This registry serves as your authorization to become a donor.
Q: Can an individual or family designate that donated organs or tissues go to a specific individual?
A: The national policy, set by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), is designed whereby the sickest person usually gets a donated organ from a deceased individual. Blood type and size also impact who will receive a particular donated organ. The policy does allow for directed donation, whereby an organ is designated to go to someone – by name. The most common scenario is a directed donation to someone known personally by the donor family. The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) and Texas Anatomical Gift Act state that a person, hospital or physician can receive a particular organ. UNOS policy states that donation of an organ(s) cannot discriminate against a person or class of persons on the basis of race, national origin, religion, gender or similar characteristic. LifeGift works diligently to see that the system’s policies are carried out so that a fair and equitable system remains for all the transplant candidates awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant. We do not favor one candidate over any other.
Q: If someone has been declared “brain dead,” is it possible for him/her to recover?
A: No. It is impossible to recover from brain death. Brain death should not be confused with coma or persistent vegetative state. Death can occur in one of two ways: first, when the heart and lungs stop functioning; and second, when the brain stops functioning. Brain death occurs when a person has irreversible, catastrophic brain injury, which causes brain activity to stop permanently. Heart and lung functions can only be maintained with the help of a mechanical ventilator.
Q: Does the family incur any costs or receive any payment related to the donation?
A: The donor family is never billed for expenses related to donation. Also, the donor family is not paid for any donations, as this would be a violation of federal and state laws.
Q: What about funeral arrangements?
A: LifeGift will communicate with a donor's family regarding the timing of organ recovery to help meet the needs involving a funeral. A donor's body is carefully reconstructed so that donation itself does not interfere with an open-casket funeral.
Q: Can an organ donor also be a tissue donor?
A: Yes. If a donor meets the criteria, both organs and tissues can be removed at the same time. Eight lives can be saved through organ donation and countless others through tissue donation.
Q: Can someone who is an organ or tissue transplant recipient also be a donor?
A: Yes, someone who has received an organ or tissue donation can also be an organ/tissue donor.
Q: How is LifeGift funded?
A: As a nonprofit organ procurement organization, LifeGift is allowed to bill transplant centers a set acquisition fee for each organ provided for transplant. This fee covers the medical expenses and transportation costs related to the donation process. There is no charge for the donated organ itself.
The acquisition fee becomes a part of the total amount the transplant center bills to the organ recipient or his/her insurance carrier. These fees are never charged to the families of organ donors. LifeGift also recovers costs related to the tissue donation process from the companies that process the tissues into useable medical devices and products for surgery.
Charges and expenses incurred by recovery agencies are regulated and audited by the U.S. Department of Health’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Medicare generally covers the costs of kidney transplants under the End Stage Renal Disease Program (ESRD). Acquisition fees vary by organ and geographic area.
Q: What if I’m in an accident and the hospital knows that I want to be an organ and tissue donor? They won’t work as hard to save my life, right?
A: Organ and tissue recovery takes place only after all efforts to save your life have been exhausted and death has been legally declared. The medical team treating you is completely separate from the transplant team. The donor registry will be checked only by the organ procurement organization (OPO, i.e., LifeGift) and only after death has been legally declared. Hospitals do not have access to check the registry. The OPO notifies the transplant team following authorization to donation.
Q: Can’t I just donate my organs and tissues by writing it in my will?
A: By the time your will is read, it will be too late to recover your organs and tissues. Register to become an organ and tissue donor today at www.DonateLifeTexas.org (or http://www.donevidatexas.org) and share your decision with your family.
Q: How old is “too old” to donate?
A: Organs may be donated from newborns to about age 75. There is no age limit for tissue donation. At the time of your death, the appropriate medical professionals will determine whether your organs are usable. In fact, the oldest organ donor on record was 93 years old.
Q: What organs can be donated?
A: The heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines can be donated. Tissue that can be donated includes the eyes, skin, bone, heart valves and tendons.
Stecil Hopkins once gave some of his own Christmas presents to a friend who hadn’t received any. When the 17-year-old was declared brain dead following a car accident, his mother, Stephanie Johnson, knew organ and tissue donation was the best way she could hold onto the selfless spirit of her only child.
Months after the accident, his liver recipient, Jennifer Lewis, sent Stephanie a letter full of sympathy for her loss and gratitude for her son’s gift. Since then, Jennifer, a mother of three, has shared every significant moment of her life with Stephanie through more than 200 cards and letters. Jennifer also carries Stecil’s photo with her wherever she goes.