How Organ Donation and Transplantation Works


Oct 22, 2022

How Organ Donation and Transplantation Works

How Organ Donation and Transplantation Works

This video developed by the HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) explains how the Organ Donation and Transplantation Works. The transcript of the video follows.

Video Transcript

Every year, many thousands of people receive the gift of life. A lifesaving transplant of a heart, kidney, liver, lungs, pancreas, or intestines. And thousands more people receive corneas and other tissues that restore sight and health. Transplantation is one of the great medical advances of our time.

How does it work?

It all starts when someone's organ begins to fail and that person will need a transplant to survive. A thorough evaluation is conducted at a transplant center, and if the person's a good candidate for a transplant, he or she will be put on the National Transplant Waiting List.

Once a person is on the list, the wait for an organ begins. A national system matches people on the waiting list with donors. The factors considered in matching donors and recipients include blood type and body size, how sick the patient is, distance from the donor, tissue type, and length of time on the waiting list.

What doesn't get taken into account, organs are never matched based on race or gender. Income, celebrity, and social status are also never considered in matching donor organs to waiting patients.

There's no telling how long the wait will take. In fact, some people don't receive an organ in time because the waiting list is very long and there aren't enough donors available. That's why an average of 20 people on the waiting list die each day. Imagine how many we could save if we all were donors.

Most organs for transplants come from deceased donors. Here's how that happens. A person comes to the hospital with a life-threatening brain injury, such as from an accident, a stroke, or lack of oxygen. The doctors work hard to save the patient's life, but sometimes nothing can be done. There's a complete, irreversible loss of brain function. The patient is clinically and legally dead.

That's when being a donor can turn a time of loss into a time of hope. Because machines have kept blood containing oxygen flowing to the organs, they can be passed along. One person can give life to as many as eight people through organ donation and enhance the lives of 50 people or more through eye and tissue donation.

But now, minutes matter. Matches must be found and transplants must happen quickly. The hospital contacts an Organ Procurement Organization, an OPO. OPOs manage the organ recovery process. 

The OPO checks the State Organ Donor Registry. If the person is already registered as a donor, they'll inform the family. If not, they'll ask the family to authorize donation. A medical examination takes place. They check the medical and social history, and if the person is eligible to be an organ donor, the computer begins the search on the National Waiting List for well-matched patients.

The best-matched patients for each organ are contacted by their transplant teams. This is the call that every single person on the waiting list has been hoping for. The call that could mean a second chance at life. Now the transplant happens.

A surgical team recovers the organs, then corneas and other tissues. The organs are sent to the transplant hospitals, where the patients and transplant teams are waiting and the life-saving transplants take place.

It will take healthy living and medications to keep the organ working well in its new home, but some wonderful person has given the most precious gift of all, the gift of life.

You, too, can make the decision today to sign up on your state registry as an organ, eye, and tissue donor. Any age is the right age, young or old. And any day is the right day to sign up as a donor.

You can register through your driver's license office or you can sign up right now online. Remember to tell your family, so they can support your wishes. More than 145 million people have already signed up, but we're all needed to save more lives.

Go to and sign up in your State Donor Registry as an organ, eye, and tissue donor.

Go to and share the gift of life.



About HRSA (Health Resources & Services Administration)

HRSA programs provide equitable health care to people who are geographically isolated and economically or medically vulnerable. This includes programs that deliver health services to people with HIV, pregnant people, mothers and their families, those with low incomes, residents of rural areas, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and those otherwise unable to access high-quality health care. HRSA programs also support health infrastructure, including through training of health professionals and distributing them to areas where they are needed most, providing financial support to health care providers, and advancing telehealth. In addition, HRSA oversees programs for providing discounts on prescription drugs to safety net providers, facilitating organ, bone marrow, and cord blood transplantation, compensating individuals injured by vaccination, and maintaining data on health care malpractice payments.

Patient Education Disclaimer

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the advice or counsel of a doctor or health care professional. KidneyLuv makes every effort to provide information that is accurate and timely, but makes no guarantee in this regard. You should consult with, and rely only on the advice of, your physician or health care professional.

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