Tissue Donation

Question: How do I become a tissue donor?

The best way to become a donor is to register as a donor on your driver’s license or online on the National Donate Life Registry. By registering, you ensure that your decision to donate can be honored in a timely manner when you die. To learn more about the registering as a donor visit our Donor Registry information page.

Question: What tissues can be donated?

Advancements in donation and transplantation allows for the donation and surgical recovery of tissue for transplant such as skin, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments bone, heart valves and cornea. For safety – and to provide for maximum use of the gift – donated tissue is sent by New England Donor Services to companies that specialize in the processing and preservation of human tissue for transplant. These companies are highly regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration and can be either non-profit or for-profit entities.

Question: How is donated tissue used?

-Skin grafts are used in post-mastectomy breast reconstruction, abdominal wall repair, healing of wounds and burns as well as in certain elective surgeries.
-Blood vessels are used in heart by-pass surgery and to replace damaged arteries and veins to increase circulation.
-Bone can be prepared and shaped in various ways to be used in spine surgery, dental procedures and any surgery where it is necessary to fill areas where existing bone has been lost. Some donated bone is used to replace lengths of bone invaded by cancer and to prevent amputation.
-Connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments are used in joint repair and reconstruction. The use of this donated tissue is critical to surgeries meant to restore mobility and decrease pain.
-Heart valves are used to replace damaged heart valves and to improve cardiac function. They are often used in children to address congenital heart defects.

Question: What are the criteria for becoming a tissue donor?

Recovery of donated tissue occurs only after death. Age and health considerations are evaluated on a case-by-case basis at the time of death. Those interested in being a donor should consider themselves as candidates for donation confident in the knowledge that medical professionals will make a final determination at the appropriate time.

Question: What are the steps involved in tissue donation?

Federal regulations require hospitals to notify New England Donor Services of the death of every patient so that donor registrations can be honored or so that families can have the option to choose donation. Upon referral, NEDS staff makes an initial determination about any possible medical disqualifications for tissue donation and, if there are none immediately apparent, a trained consent professional will contact the family of the deceased by telephone. If the potential donor is registered in a donor registry, the next of kin will be notified of that fact and information about the process will be provided. In the absence of donor registration, the next-of-kin will be offered the opportunity to make the donation decision.
Depending on the location of the hospital where the donor died, surgical recovery of donated tissue may take place either at the hospital or at a New England Donor Services tissue recovery center.

Question: Will there be a cost to my family if I donate?

There is no cost to the family of donors for tissue donation. All expenses related to the donation are paid for by New England Donor Services including any additional costs associated with transportation to a tissue recovery center.