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Organ and Tissue Donation in Alberta

Donation Process

​Organ Donation

  1. Once the person is confirmed dead, he or she is kept on organ support in the critical care unit.
  2. The person’s donation consent status will be checked on the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry.
  3. The family will be offered the option to donate organs and tissues as part of end-of-life care and is notified of the consent status.
  4. If the family supports the consent or wishes to donate, a donor coordinator will talk with the family about donation and ask questions about the person’s social and medical history. The donor coordinator will also ask the family to sign a consent form saying they have been informed about, and agree with, the donation process.​
  5. Blood samples will be taken and tests will be done to make sure the person who died can donate.
  6. The organs will be matched with recipients through a national transplant waiting list using a standardized process.
  7. Once recipients are found, the donor is taken to the operating room. The organs are recovered and sent to the recipient centers to be transplanted.
  8. If the donor can donate tissue, the tissue recovery is done after the organ recovery.
  9. The donor is released to a funeral home that the family chooses.

Tissue Donation

  1. The person’s death is confirmed.
  2. The person’s consent status is checked on the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry.
  3. The family will be offered the option to donate organs and tissues as part of end-of-life care and is notified of the consent status.
  4. If the family needs other information or wishes to donate, a healthcare provider will call a donation professional to talk to them.
  5. If the family wishes to donate, a donation professional will get consent and ask about the person’s social history and medical history.
  6. The tissue program(s) will review the medical records of the person who died. They will decide if the donor can donate tissue.
  7. The donor is taken to the operating room for tissue recovery. Corneas may be recovered in the operating room, at the bedside, or in the morgue.
  8. The tissues are processed and stored for future use.
  9. The donor is released to a funeral home that the family chooses.

How long does the organ and tissue donation process take?

The time it takes for organ and tissue donation is different for everyone. It usually takes 24 to 36 hours.

What is the role of the donor coordinator?

The donor coordinators are nurses with special training that:

  • coordinate all organ donations in their area and work with the eye and tissue programs
  • teach people and healthcare providers about organ and tissue donation
  • help with organ donation research
  • provide follow-up support and communicate with donor families

You can call the coordinator any time after the donation for support or if you have questions. The coordinator can refer you to other healthcare providers if needed. You may get some information about the recipients, but it’s limited.

How are organ recipients chosen?

People that need transplants are matched to an organ based on many factors including:

  • blood group
  • height
  • weight
  • medical urgency (sickest people first)
  • how long the person has been on the waiting list
  • distance between the donor and possible recipient

All the above information is used to help medical specialists decide which recipient is the best match for the organ that’s available.

What do the tissue programs do?

Tissue programs focus on improving the health and quality of life of individuals by recovering, processing, storing, and distributing various types of tissues for transplantation. This process involves the use of tissue from both deceased and living donors.

Skin - the donation of skin enables a better and faster healing process to individuals who have been seriously burned.

Heart for Valves - heart valves are used to replace damaged or diseased valves in children or adults.

Bone - bone destroyed by cancer or trauma can be removed and replaced with healthy donated bone. This surgery can prevent amputation and save a limb.

Tendons- used to restore joint mobility and are sometimes used in joint repair procedures.

What is the role of the tissue specialist?

Tissue specialists come from a variety of scientific and health sciences backgrounds and receive additional specialized training to:

  • coordinate tissue donations in their area and work with the organ programs
  • teach people and healthcare providers about tissue donation
  • help with tissue research
  • provide follow-up support and communicate with donor families

How are tissue recipients chosen?

Medical specialists review the patient’s medical history and health status to determine who may benefit from a tissue transplant. Surgeons will then determine the best type of tissue transplant in consultation with the tissue program.

Who can be an eye donor?

The great thing about corneal tissue is that anyone can be an eye donor. Blood type does not have to match and it does not matter if the potential donor has good eye sight. Only those suffering from some forms of cancer, infections or a few highly communicable diseases such as HIV or hepatitis will disqualify a potential ocular donor.

How does a cornea transplant work?

A corneal transplant involves the removal of the central portion (called a button) of the diseased cornea and replacing it with a matched button of a donor’s cornea. Corneal grafts are also performed on patients with damaged or scarred corneas that prevent acceptable vision. Scarring may have resulted from disease or trauma.

How soon after a donation must a cornea be transplanted?

Recovery of the donor eye tissue takes place within hours of death. A corneal transplant is performed as quickly as possible (usually within 3-7 days).

How does eye donation benefit research and education?

Eye tissue donated for research on glaucoma, retinal disease, eye complication from diabetes and other sight disorders leads to new treatments and cures.

Does the removal of organs or tissues leave scars? Will it prevent an open casket funeral or delay the funeral?

The surgery to remove organs and tissues is done with the same care as any other surgery. Everything is done to keep your family member’s dignity. The person’s body is treated with respect. All areas affected by organ or tissue removal are reconstructed. This is very important with eye donation. In these cases, the eye area is reconstructed so you can’t tell that surgery was done. Usually, you can expect the body to be released to the funeral home 24 to 48 hours after the person has died.

Most of the time, there is no way to tell that the person was an organ or tissue donor and you can have an open casket funeral.



Current as of: January 13, 2017

Author: Organ and Tissue Donation Programs, Alberta Health Services