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2014 Jul

A Gift of Life

At the age of five, Shutong Hao (“Tong Tong”) had already undergone one open-heart surgery. Then doctors told her parents that the critically ill girl would need a transplant. 

Tong Tong received the heart of donor Matthew Mingin, a four-year-old described by his mother as “a polite and generous boy with a heart of gold.” With her new heart, Tong Tong was transformed into an energetic, happy child. 

Matthew’s gift helped save other lives as well. “One woman made the decision to become a donor when she heard our story,” says Shutong’s mother. “We are so grateful.”



The ability to transplant organs and tissues is one of the greatest success stories in modern medicine. Thanks to organ donation, many people with life-threatening illnesses can look forward to a future and a second chance at life. Many others can experience a better quality of life through donated tissues such as corneas, skin, bone, and heart valves. 

More than 116,000 men, women, and children are on the organ transplant waiting list in the United States. Sadly, for many of them, an organ will not become available in time. On average, 18 people die every day waiting for a generous donor—and the gift of life. 

Every day, more people are added to the U.S. transplant waiting list, while the number of donors grows slowly. In 2011, the number of people waiting for a transplant was nearly four times greater than the number who received one.

Just think: one organ donor can save up to eight lives. One eye and tissue donor can enhance the lives of as many as 50 people. 



1. Who can donate? 

People of any age can be donors. Anyone over the age of 18 can register to be a donor. In some states, people under 18 can register and their registration becomes legal when they turn 18. If they die before that, parents have to give consent. 

Even with a medical condition, donation may be possible. At the time of death, donation professionals determine whether the deceased’s organs can be used for transplantation. 

2. How are organs distributed? 

The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) maintains the national waiting list and matches organs with patients when a donor becomes available. This computerized system considers such issues as blood type, severity of illness, time spent waiting, body size, and geographic location when matching donors and recipients. 

3. Do the rich and famous get priority for organs? 

No. A patient’s financial or celebrity status does not affect the match; celebrities and the wealthy do not get priority treatment. Thousands of people get transplants each year, but the media more often publicize information about celebrities who receive transplants. 

4. Can people of different ethnicities match? 

Yes. Organs are not matched according to race or ethnicity, and people of different races frequently match one another. However, a compatible blood type between the donor and recipient is essential for a successful transplant. Because certain blood and tissue types are more common among some ethnicities, all individuals have a better chance of receiving a transplant if there are large numbers of donors from all backgrounds. 

5. Will doctors still try to save my life if they know I’m a donor? 

Absolutely yes. If you are sick or injured and admitted to a hospital, the number one priority is to save your life, whether or not you are a registered donor. 

6. How do I indicate my decision to donate? 

Sign up on your state’s donor registry either at the motor vehicle office or online at organdonor.gov. Tell your family of your wishes and save them from making the decision at a difficult time. 

7. Do any religions object to donation? 

Most major religions in the United States support organ donation and consider it the final act of love and generosity toward others. 

8. Is there a cost to my family for organ donation? 

No. There is no cost to donors or their families for organ or tissue donation. 

9. What about open-casket funerals? 

An open-casket funeral is possible for organ, eye, and tissue donors. Throughout the entire donation process, the body is treated with care, respect, and dignity. 

10. Is it legal to pay someone for an organ? 

No. Federal law prohibits buying and selling organs in the United States. Violators are punishable by prison sentences and fines.


For more information, visit www.organdonor.gov or call 866-99-DONATE (36628) 

Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

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