Today we bring you the second session of our “Ask the Donor Experts!” feature, addressing myths, concerns, or any questions related to organ/tissue donation. This is an excellent forum for us to reach out and connect while educating others about the issue so keep the questions coming! We again turn to Kim McCullough, Manager of Public Relations and Donor Family Services at Gift of Hope to address the questions submitted below.
Q: Hi, I’m from Poland but I live in Chicago. I don’t have state ID, can I be a donor??
A: You do need a state ID or driver’s license number to register in the Illinois donor registry — it is necessary to uniquely identify you in the registry. If you don’t have a number to register, it’s important to inform your family members of your wishes so that they can give consent for you to become a donor at the time of your death.
Q: Can I specify which organs I want to donate? I really don’t want my body torn apart. I understand you are trying to help as many people as possible, but I would like some say-so into what is actually donated.
A: There’s a short answer to your question, but I want to offer a bit more explanation. I’m concerned that your question is coming from an impression the body is “torn apart” or disfigured after donation. Actually, the complete opposite is true. Donation is actually a surgical procedure and the body is carefully restored afterward like after any surgery, so that you can’t even tell that a surgery or donation took place.
While you may have in mind certain organs/tissues you want to donate, it’s impossible to know whether you will be medically eligible to donate them until the time of your death, when we can do a medical evaluation based on your condition at that time. Sometimes it is only one organ or one type of tissue that can be donated. Most people who become organ donors are able to donate two or three organs, not all of them.
In terms of tissue donation, again, only certain tissues are donated and again the body restored after the procedure. As little of the body is removed based on what you are able to donate. For example, many people ask about cornea and skin donation assuming that the entire eye or most of their skin will be removed. The actuality is that the cornea is like the contact lens to the eye, the dime-size clear part on the top of the eye. Donating it does not require that the entire eye be removed.
Likewise, skin donation entails recovery of the very top, thin layer of skin tissue from sections of the back and the thigh. Afterward, it simply looks like the area was sunburned. We really work to educate people about this, and of course, they save the lives of critically burned patients who receive skin grafts, and give cornea transplant patients the ability to see again.
Whatever the case at the time of death, when we have determined medical eligibility for donation, we discuss and confirm with family members which organs and tissues you will be able to donate. It does not impact the ability to have an open-casket viewing; again, people would not be able to tell the deceased was an organ/tissue donor unless they were told.
So please forgive the long background, but I really want to make sure you have this information and understand how it works. The bottom line is that Illinois’ registry enables you to donate all organs and tissue you are medically eligible to donate at the time of your death, but it does not enable you to designate certain organs or tissues only. So in the end, if you feel strongly about not donating a specific organs and tissues for whatever reason, you should not join the registry and must inform your legal next-of-kin and rely on that individual to provide consent for donation per your explicit wishes at the time of your death.