With LifeLink of Florida’s Ashley Moore
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More than 5,800 Floridians are awaiting a kidney, pancreas, heart and/or liver transplant.
In this Healthe-Matters "Ask an Expert," LifeLink of Florida's Ashley Moore debunks common organ donation myths and explains how we can all save lives through organ or tissue donation. LifeLink of Florida is a non-profit organ and tissue recovery organization; learn more about LifeLink here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is LifeLink? And what is its role in organ recovery/donation?
LifeLink is a non-profit service organization dedicated recovering life-saving and life-enhancing organs and tissue for transplantation therapy. We help facilitate the donation of desperately needed organs and tissues for waiting patients, support research efforts to enhance the available supply of organs and tissue for transplant patients, and improve clinical outcomes of patients after they’ve gotten a transplant. LifeLink also works closely with the United Network for Organ Sharing, manages the U.S. organ transplant system, to support its goals.
Q: What can be recovered during organ donation to help save or enhance a recipient’s life?
A single organ and tissue donor can impact as many as 75 lives! Eight organs can be recovered and donated — the heart, liver, small intestine, pancreas, lungs (two) and kidneys (two)— as can bone. Whole bone is often used in reconstructive surgeries, and bone graphs are used in procedures for things like crushed spinal disks. Life-saving and life-enhancing tissues that can be donated include corneas, tendons, ligaments, heart valves, veins and skin.
Q: How can I register to become a donor?
Florida residents can simply register online at donatelifeflorida.org. It’s fast and easy. Residents also can sign up when they go to their local tax office or driver’s license office. Regardless of where you register — online or when you apply for an ID / driver’s license — your information will be uploaded to Donate Life Florida, the state registry for organ and tissue donors.
Registered donors each have a profile on donatelifeflorida.org. Those who are registered on their license (if it says “Organ Donor under your photo on your ID) can go online to donatelifeflorida.org and access their profile.; from there, donors can check off every organ and/or every tissue they’d like to donate.
Q: Does being an organ donor impact the care I receive at a hospital?
That's a great question. A lot of people have this misconception — or fear — that if they are designated as an “organ donor” on their license, then healthcare providers won’t work as hard to save their life. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Whether you're an organ donor does not affect the care you're going to receive at the hospital. The doctors who are treating you or the paramedics who are working on you actually don't even know if you're a registered donor, and frankly, it’s their job is to save your life. Only organ recovery organizations can see the Donate Life Florida database, and they aren’t brought in until after death has occurred.
Q: Are there age limits to donation?
At LifeLink of Florida, we hear this question a lot. There is no age limit to organ or tissue donation. Blood and bone marrow donation sometimes have age limitations, but not organ donation. One of our oldest donors on record was 92, and he was able to donate his liver. We really try to make donation happen when we can.
Q: Can I donate organs if I have a health condition?
Absolutely. Even if you have a health condition, go ahead and register to be a donor; it can't hurt. It’s our job to test the organs to see whether they're safe and a good match, so that they help somebody else.
Let’s say you have hepatitis. A lot of patients who are waiting for a transplant already have hepatitis, and your donated organ(s) could be a good fit for those people. Another great example is HIV. Several years ago, we were approved to recover HIV organs for patients who already have HIV.
Just because you have a health condition doesn't rule you out as an organ or tissue donor, so we encourage everyone to register.
Q: Can I donate organs or tissue if I’m a smoker, regular alcohol drinker or use drugs?
Donors don't have to be in perfect health. The viability of organs and tissue depends on their health at time of death, and we've been able to recover and transplant organs from all different types of patients, including smokers and even those who overdosed on drugs.
Q: How does the organ transplant process work? How is it decided who gets an organ? Can someone pay to be moved up on the waiting list?
In the US, the national transplant waitlist is managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). Anyone who needs a transplant has to go through testing and get put on this waitlist. Each person is basically a blind number in the system. So, it doesn’t matter what your social status or financial ability is. In that system, everyone is equal.
When an organ becomes available, recovery organizations look at various factors, including blood type, organ size, and also geography (distance to donor) because where that donor passes away determines where those organs can be transported to. We're trying to find the perfect match.
We put all the information about those donor organs into the UNOS system, and it has an algorithm that gives us the top two candidates who match that organ. So, we always have an A candidate and a B candidate who is a backup, in case A is unable to get that transplant that day — perhaps they are too sick to withstand a surgery.
What You Can Do
Whatever your decision is about donating organs or tissue, be sure to tell a family member or loved one what your wishes are. It's important for them to know so there's no question, if and when it comes up.
For more information and to register to become an organ donor, visit donatelifeflorida.org or contact the Tampa-based LifeLink of Florida at 813-348-6308.