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6 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.
7 How do they know you are really dead?
Organs are only removed for transplantation after a person has died. Death is confirmed by a doctor or doctors who are entirely independent of the transplant team. Death is confirmed in exactly the same way for people who donate organs as for those who do not.
Most organ donors are patients who die as a result of a brain haemorrhage, severe head injury, or stroke and who are on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit. In these circumstances, death is diagnosed by brain stem tests. There are very clear and strict standards and procedures for doing these tests and they are always performed by two experienced doctors.
The ventilator provides oxygen which keeps the heart beating and blood circulating after death. These donors are called heartbeating donors. Organs such as hearts, which deteriorate very quickly without an oxygen supply, are usually only donated by a heartbeating donor.
Patients who die in hospital but are not on a ventilator can, in some circumstances, donate their kidneys, and in certain circumstances, other organs. They are called non-heartbeating donors.
Both heartbeating and non-heartbeating donors can donate their corneas and other tissue.
8 Can they keep you alive with machines?
No. The patient is dead. A ventilator keeps the body supplied with oxygen and this means the heart will continue to beat and circulate blood. This preserves the organs so they can be donated for transplant. When the ventilator is turned off the heart will stop beating within a few minutes.
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In Wales, like the rest of the UK, most organ donations come from heartbeating donors.
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