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Organ and Tissue Donation in Alberta

Topic Overview

​​What is the difference between organ donation and tissue donation?

Organ donation is when an organ (e.g., heart, lung, kidney) is removed from one person and transplanted into another person.

Tissue donation is when tissues in the body (e.g., skin, corneas, bone) are removed from one person and transplanted into another person.

About Organ Donation

Sometimes, an organ donor may be a living donor. This means that donating the organ will not harm the person. An example of this is when a brother gives 1 of his 2 kidneys to his sister or a mother gives part of her liver to her child.

Organs can only be donated if:

  • there has been severe brain damage and the person is no longer alive and
  • the person has been maintained on a ventilator until the organs are removed

An organ donor usually dies an unexpected, tragic death after a severe brain injury. This often happens because of a motor vehicle accident, bleeding in the brain, or a trauma like a very bad fall.

About Tissue Donation

Tissues do not require the same conditions as organs to survive, so tissue donation is possible after the heart and lungs have stopped working.

Tissues for donation must be removed within 12 to 24 hours after a person dies. The donor doesn’t need to be maintained on a ventilator.

Who can donate organs and tissues?

The criteria for organ and tissue donation can change and there may be certain reasons a person can’t donate. It’s often related to a person’s medical or social history, or illnesses. The organs and tissues have to be healthy and the donor must not have any diseases that could harm the recipient.

Which organs and tissues can be transplanted?

Organs that can be donated include:

  • heart
  • lungs
  • liver
  • kidney
  • pancreas
  • pancreas islet cells
  • small bowel
  • stomach

Tissues that can be donated include:

  • cornea
  • sclera (white of the eye)
  • heart valves
  • skin
  • bone
  • tendons
  • amniotic tissue

How many people in Canada need transplants?

  • There are over 4,500 Canadians waiting for a transplant that will save their lives. Even more people are waiting for tissue transplants that will make the quality of their lives better.
  • There are over 700 Albertans on transplant waitlists.

Can I donate organs or tissues while I am still alive?

Yes. You can donate a kidney, part of the liver, or part of the lung. To learn more, ask your family doctor to refer you to a specialist, or call the Living Donor Program for more information.

There are Living Donor Programs in Calgary and Edmonton. You can make a living donation of a kidney, part of a lung, or part of a liver to someone you know at The University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton. You can make a living kidney donation at The Southern Alberta Transplant Program in Calgary.

You can also make living tissue donations of the amniotic sac after childbirth if you are having a planned cesarean section and the top part of the thigh bone (femoral head) after a hip replacement.

Facts about Organ and Tissue Donation

  • Only 1 - 2% of people that die can be considered for organ donation.
  • Most people can be considered for tissue donation.
  • There is no cost to your family or estate if you donate organs or tissues.
  • 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.
  • The surgery to remove organs and tissues is done with the same care as any other surgery.
  • Most religions respect a person’s right to make a decision about organ and tissue donation. Talk to your spiritual advisor.
  • Talk to your family about organ and tissue donation and discuss your wishes.
Just 1 organ and tissue donor can save up to 8 lives and make life better for up to 75 other people.


Current as of: December 13, 2013

Author: Organ and Tissue Donation Programs, Alberta Health Services