Donation and transplantation

Donors and Transplantations

What is a transplantation?

A transplantation consists in replacing a damaged organ or tissue with another one that works properly. This treatment improves the conditions of life for certain patients, while for others, it may be their only hope for recovery and the only way to preserve an acceptable quality of life.

Who can benefit from a transplantation?

All patients with kidney failure who are receiving dialysis treatment three times a week in order to survive, patients with certain incurable diseases of the heart, liver or lungs with a short life expectancy, patients with uncontrollable diabetes that could lead to blindness or kidney failure, blind patients for various causes, and patients who require a tissue replacement.  Many people can thus benefit from a transplantation.

What parts of the body are used for transplantations?

Apart from from solid organs (kidneys, liver, heart, lungs and pancreas), we can also transplant tissues such as bones, hair, heart valves, vascular segments, corneas, cell cultures and haematopoietic stem cells (bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, peripheral blood).

What is a donor?

A donor is a person, or a person's family, who altruistically expresses their will, once they have passed away, to give any part of their body suitable for a transplantation to help other people in need. In addition to transplants from deceased donors, a patient may also receive an organ or tissue from a live donor. Most transplantations come from deceased donors; however, in certain cases an organ (a kidney, for example), part of an organ (part of a liver), part of tissue (amniotic membrane or bone tissue from an intervention) or cell for a culture can be obtained from a live donor, always when the donor's life is not threatened.

Who can be an organ or tissue donor?

Anybody can be a potential donor, as long as they did not express their disagreement with donating while they were alive. The clinical conditions at the time of death will determine which organs and tissues are suitable for a transplantation. With minors or handicapped people, the will of the legal parent or guardian will be respected (Law 30/1979).

Regarding live donors, these situations will be limited to those in which a high possibility of success is expected from the transplantation, as stipulated in current regulations. Any healthy adult can be a live donor; however, you must bear in mind that this situation entails a series of risks, as with any surgery.

In what circumstances must the death have taken place in order to be able to donate organs and tissue?

In order to donate organs and tissue, the donor must have died in a hospital (after an irreversible failure of brain function or cardiorespiratory function with no possibility for recovery). Only in this way can the body be artificially maintained from the time of death until the moment of extraction.  In terms of ocular tissue, the place of  death does not matter as the extraction can be done up to a few hours later.

What do you have to do to become a donor?

When a person makes the decision to become a donor and donate their organs and tissues so they can be transplanted in other people, the first and most important thing they must do is notify their family and closest friends of their decision. They will be the first people contacted with regards to the possibility of a donation after the death of the donor, and will hopefully respect the donor's wishes.

You can also carry a donor card with you along with your personal documents as proof of the decision you've made.  The card is not a commitment and can be destroyed at any time if you change your mind.

How is the organ and tissue donor's will respected once they've passed away?

After everything possible has been done to save a person's life, doctors unrelated to the transplantation will confirm the irreversible nature of the process and certify the death of the patient in conformity with medical and legal criteria established for these cases.

Once the death has been certified, the transplant medical team will assess which organs and tissues can be used to cure and improve the health of other people. If a donation is possible, the hospital transplant coordinator will use all the resources available to check the donor's will expressed in life, but, above all, will consult the donor's family. 

What happens after the organs and tissue have been extracted?

There is no difference as compared to other hospital deaths. The extraction of organs and tissues is done in sterile conditions in the appropriate operating room and is performed by a qualified medical and nursing team. The body will not be disfigured and is always treated with the utmost respect.

When can a transplantation be done from a live donor?

Part of a liver or a kidney can be transplanted from a live donor. In certain countries, basically due to cultural reasons or a shortage of organs from deceased donors, most transplantations are done with organs from live donors.

In addition, some tissue transplants can come from live donors, such as bone tissue, amniotic membrane and cell cultures and the transplantation of haematopoietic stem cells (blood stem cells).