A potential donor has most likely been admitted to a hospital because of illness or accident which has resulted in head trauma, brain aneurysm or stroke. Healthcare professionals work hard to save the patient's life while maintaining the patient on mechanical devices.
Brain Death Testing
When healthcare professionals have exhausted all possible lifesaving efforts and the patient is not responding, a physician will perform a series of tests to determine if brain death has occurred. This is usually done by a neurosurgeon or neurologist in compliance with accepted medical practice and state law. Patients who are brain dead have no brain activity and cannot breathe on their own. Brain death is irreversible and is not a coma. Brain death is death.
In compliance with federal regulations, a hospital notifies its local organ procurement organization, Unyts, of every death or impending death. A hospital gives Unyts information about the deceased to confirm his or her potential to be a donor. If the patient is a potential candidate for donation, a representative from Unyts immediately travels to the hospital.
The Unyts representative will search New York’s donor registry to see if the deceased had enrolled as a donor. If so, that will serve as legal authorization. If the deceased had not registered and there was no other legal authorization for donation, Unyts will seek authorization from the next of kin. When authorization is obtained, medical evaluation will continue, including obtaining the deceased's complete medical and social history from the family.
Matching Donors with Recipients
If the deceased's evaluation does not rule out donation, Unyts will contact the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) to begin the search for matching recipients. A computer program matches donor organs with recipients based on blood type, tissue type, height, and weight, length of time the patient has been waiting, the severity of the patient's illness and the distance between the donor's and the recipient's hospitals. The list does not reference race, gender, income or social status.
Maintaining the Donor
While the matching process in happening the donor is maintained on artificial life support and the condition of each organ is carefully monitored by the hospital medical staff and the Clinical Donation Coordinator from Unyts.
Recovering and Transporting Organs
The Unyts representative arranges the arrival and departure times of the transplant surgical teams. After the surgical team arrives, the donor is taken to the operating room where organs and tissues are recovered in a sterile environment, just like in any surgery. All incisions are surgically closed and should not interfere with an open-casket funeral.
The transplant operation takes place after the transport team arrives at the recipient hospital with the new organ. Typically the transplant recipient is already at the hospital and may be in the operating room awaiting the arrival of the lifesaving organ. Surgical teams work around the clock as needed to transplant the new organs into the waiting recipients.
The families of all donors and potential donors are provided with support through the Unyts Family Services departments.