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FAQ's

Did you know that over 25% of the longest surviving kidney transplant patients owe their lives to Belfast City Hospital.

FAQ's

There are Northern Ireland Kidney research Fund Groups throught Northern Ireland all of which operate on a totally voluntary semi autonomous basis. If there is no a Group in your area then you may wish to start one or you might like to organise a fund raising event on our behalf.

WHEN WAS THE FIRST TRANSPLANT?

A cornea was first transplanted in 1905.  Blood transfusion became established in 1918 and the first successful kidney transplant was in 1954.  The first heart transplant took place in 1967.

WHAT CAN BE TRANSPLANTED?

Kidneys, hearts, livers, lungs, pancreases, corneas, heart valves and bone can all be transplanted.  Skin can be used to treat patients with severe burns.  Techniques are improving all the time and it may soon be practical to transplant other parts of the body.

CAN YOU DONATE AN ORGAN WHILE YOU ARE STILL ALIVE?

Yes, in some cases. The shortage of organs has led to an increasing numberof organ donations by living people.

The most common organ donated by a living person is a kidney as healthy person can live a completely normal life with only one functioning kidney. Kidneys transplanted from living donors have a better chance of long-term survival than those transplanted from people who have died. There are a number of reasons for this, the main one being that the donor is alive and healthy. Nearly one in five of all kidney transplants in the UK are from a living donor.

Live donations are nearly always between close family members because they usually provide the best match. The majority are often between parent and child, but the donor might be brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or grandparent. The donation of kidneys between non blood relatives is becoming increasingly common.

Before a living donor transplant can go ahead there are strict regulations to meet and a thorough process of assessment and discussion

Part of a liver can be transplanted and it may also be possible to donate a segment of a lung and, in a very small number of cases, part of the small bowel.

For all forms of living donor transplants the risk to the donor must be considered very carefully.

CAN OLDER PEOPLE BE DONORS?

Yes, in the case of cornea and some other tissue, age does not matter. For other organs it is the person's physical condition, not age, which is the deciding factor. Specialist healthcare professionals decide in each case which organs and tissue are suitable. Organs and tissue from people in their 70s and 80s are transplanted successfully.

CAN A DONOR BE UNDER SIXTEEN?

Yes, if he or she has expressed such a wish and the parent or guardian agree to donation.

WHY DO WE NEED TO AGREE TO BECOME DONORS?

Because in the United Kingdom organs from a potential donor cannot be taken for transplantation without the relatives’ permission.

Carrying a donor card and putting your name on the Donor Register makes everyone aware of your wishes and makes it easy for them to agree. To help this process along, we ask people also to make sure their families know that they wish to be a donor.

WHAT IF I WANT TO BE A DONOR BUT MY FAMILY WOULD OBJECT?

You can get a solicitor to put your wishes in writing in such a way that you could carry it with you. This would help, but in any event tell your family and closest friends your decision to be a donor when you die. If there is written evidence of your wish to be a donor, most people will accept that, after death, your wishes should be respected. It also makes it much easier for them to reach a decision, at a very difficult time.

WHY ARE EVEN MORE DONORS NEEDED?

Every year hundreds of people die while waiting for an organ transplant and many others lose their lives before they even get on to the transplant list. There is a serious shortage of organs and the gap between the number of organs donated and the number of people waiting for a transplant is increasing.

Transplants are very successful and the number of people needing a transplant is expected to rise steeply due to an ageing population, an increase in kidney failure and scientific advances which mean that more people are now able to benefit from a transplant.

However, the number of organs available for transplantation has fallen for several reasons. Only a very small number of people die in circumstances where they are able to donate their organs. Because organs have to be transplanted very soon after someone has died they can only be donated by someone who has died in hospital. Usually organs come from people who are certified dead while on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit, generally as a result of a brain haemorrhage, major accident like a car crash, or stroke.

The numbers of people, particularly younger people, dying in these circumstances is falling, mainly because of welcome improvements in road safety, medical advances in the treatment of patients and the prevention of strokes in younger people.

Another major reason for the shortage of organs is that many people have not recorded their wishes about donation or discussed it with their families. Too few people have joined the NHS Organ Donor Register and made sure that their families know their wishes.

While only a very few people die in circumstances which would enable their organs to be donated, many people can donate tissue after their death. Scientific and medical advances in the treatments that are available for patients has led to an increased need for donated tissue.

ARE THERE RELIGIOUS OBJECTIONS TO TRANSPLANTS?

Most major religious groups approve of and support organ transplants as it is consistent with life-preserving traditions. However, if you have any doubts, you should discuss them with your own spiritual or religious leader.

DOES ORGAN DONATION LEAVE THE BODY DISFIGURED?

No. The recovery of organs and tissues is carried out by surgeons and trained staff with great care and does not disfigure the body or change the way it looks.

HOW DO THEY KNOW YOU ARE REALLY DEAD?

Two different doctors have to carry out a series of tests independently in order to confirm that a patient is “brain-stem dead”. The standards are very strict and are accepted medically, legally and ethically in the UK and most other countries in the world.

Brain-stem death usually results because of a severe brain injury which causes all brain activity to stop. This could be caused by a major road accident resulting in head injuries, or by a fatal stroke, when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted.

CAN’T THEY KEEP YOU ALIVE WITH MACHINES?

Machines can keep the blood circulating after death and this allows organs to be used for transplantation, but a patient who is brain-stem dead cannot recover.

WILL THEY JUST LET YOU DIE IF THEY KNOW YOU WANT TO BE A DONOR?

No.  The doctors looking after a patient have to make every possible effort to save the patient’s life.  That is their first duty.  If, despite their efforts, the patients dies and is certified brain-stem dead, only then can organ donation be considered and a completely different team of doctors would be called in.

WHO WOULD GET MY ORGANS IF I BECOME A DONOR?

There is a national computerised list of patients waiting for an organ transplant. The system for matching donated organs to these patients has been agreed nationally by the medical specialists involved. The computer automatically produces either the name of the next person on the list who matches correctly the organ which has become available, or the transplant unit to whom the organ is to be offered.

The waiting list and donor organ allocation system is operated independently by the UK Transplant Support Service Authority (UKTSSA). It works round the clock, every day of the year, and covers the whole of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

HOW ARE DONATED ORGANS MATCHED TO PATIENTS?

There are many characteristics which need to match or be very close – blood group, age and weight are all taken into account.  For kidneys the most important factor is the tissue type which is much more complex than blood grouping.  The more accurate the match the better the chances of success.  Tests are carried out on the donor and the results of these must match those already carried out on the waiting patient.

WOULD A TRANSPLANT PATIENT EVER KNOW WHO THE DONOR WAS?

No.  Confidentiality is always maintained, except in the case of living donations which are usually within the same family.

DOES THE COLOUR OF MY SKIN MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE?

Yes and no.  Successful transplants are frequently carried out between people from different races, wherever the matching criteria are met.

There is a better chance of getting a very close match if donor and recipient are of the same race, so it is important that we have donors from all races.

It is now known that some ethnic groups are more likely to be prone to kidney disease of a type that produces kidney failure.  As a result, even more donors are needed among these groups, to ensure that as many as possible within a particular group can have access to successful treatment.

DOES BEING A DONOR CAUSE DELAYS TO FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS?

No.  Everything has to be done very quickly to improve the chances of successful transplants.  Once relatives have agreed, everything will be completed in less than 12 hours.

HOW IS TRANSPLANTATION ORGANISED?

When brain-stem death has been confirmed in a patient who could be considered as a potential organ donor, the local Transplant Co-ordinator is contacted.  They check immediately to see if the patient has indicated a wish to be a donor and then confirm with the next of kin that they agree to donation.

A computer search is then made to find the most suitable patients, as the donation may involve more than one organ.  Once the patients and their locations are identified, the doctors at those hospitals are alerted and asked to confirm acceptance of the organ.  As they do so, they begin the preparation of their patients for the operation.

A team of specialist surgeons is called to the donor’s hospital to carry out the surgery and preserve the organs for transport to the transplant hospital.  Special transport arrangements are made to ensure no time is lost.

Problems can occur if any of the donor’s organs, once examined, are found to be affected by disease or damaged in some way.  This will mean that a waiting patient’s hopes are dashed for the moment and that their wait for a transplant must continue.

If all is well, the organ is received at the transplant hospital and transplanted immediately and the process of recovery and new life can then begin.

WHO ARE TRANSPLANT CO-ORDINATORS?

They are members of the transplant team based at hospitals which specialise in transplantation. They are experienced in all aspects of organ donation and transplantation. One of their mail roles is education, providing information to both the general public and health professionals.

They are also responsible for organising the logistics of the donor and recipient operations.

DOES A DONOR’S FAMILY HAVE TO PAY THE COST OF DONATION?

No. There is no question of any payment at all.

CAN PEOPLE BUY OR SELL ORGANS?

No. The Human Organ Transplants Act, 1989 absolutely prohibits the sale of human organs.

IF SOMEONE NEEDS AN ORGAN DESPERATELY, IS THERE ANY POINT IN MOUNTING A SPECIAL APPEAL?

Yes and no. Any special appeal usually results in more people agreeing to become donors and can increase the number of organs available.

However, family appeals through the newspapers and television will not result in an organ immediately becoming available for the person on whose behalf the appeal was made. The patient will still be on the waiting list, just like everyone else, and the rules that govern the matching of donor and recipient are just the same, as described in this leaflet.

IS THERE A NATIONAL REGISTER OF PEOPLE WILLING TO BE DONORS?

An NHS Organ Donor Register has been set up as a computer database at UKTSSA. The Register is accessible to each of the Transplant Co-ordinators who will be able to check the Register first, each time they have a potential donor to consider.

Remember that even if your name were on the Register, your relatives would still be asked for their approval before you could become a donor. However, they are likely to agree readily if you have specifically entered your name on the NHS Organ Donor Register for the purpose, and the whole process will be made easier for everyone.

HOW DO I CONFIRM MY WISH TO BE A DONOR?

You can fill out a donor card and carry it with you. There is one on the next page of this booklet.

You can also mark in the box provided on the back of any driving licence sent to you after March 1993, that you wish to be a donor. However, should you be completing one of the new driving licence application forms, you can indicate your willingness to become a donor on that form. Names collected off these forms will be entered on to the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Best of all, you can write direct to the NHS Organ Donor Register and ask for your name to be added to the Register.

CAN I AGREE TO DONATE SOME ORGANS AND NOT OTHERS?

Yes.  You can specify which organs you would donate.

CAN I CHANGE MY MIND?

Yes. You can simply tear up you donor card and tell your family that you have changed your mind. If your name has been added to the NHS Donor Register, write to the Register and ask them to remove your name.