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Transplant Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Section 1: Organ Donation FAQ

Who can become a donor?

Anyone and everyone! Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissue can be donated. If you wish to register, please visit this site. It’s never too late to sign-up!

What organs and tissues can be donated?

Organs that can be donated include:

  • Heart
  • 2 kidneys
  • Pancreas
  • 2 lungs
  • Liver
  • Intestines
Tissues include:
  • Corneas
  • Skin
  • Heart valves
  • Islet cells
  • Connective tissue (bones, tendons, cartilage, ligaments)
  • Bone marrow
  • Blood vessels
  • Blood

What kinds of injuries may lead to brain death?

  • Strokes
  • Aneurysms
  • Anoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain)
  • Brain tumors
  • Head trauma is a common condition that leads to brain death.
    • Automobile accidents, falls, and direct blows to the head (including gunshot wounds) may result in severe brain injury and subsequent brain death.

How can you tell if someone is brain dead?

  • A person who is brain dead does not exhibit certain reflexes that require the brain to function. For example,
    • Their pupils do not react to light by constricting.
    • They do not gag if a tongue depressor is placed in the back of their throat.
    • There is no response to pain.
  • Also, specialized medical tests may be done to further confirm brain death.
    • This may include an electroencephalogram (EEG), which would show no electrical activity coming from the brain.

Will my decision to donate affect the quality of my medical care as a patient?

NO. Your doctors will not even begin to consider organ and tissue donation until after all efforts have been made to save your life. The doctors who are working to save your life are entirely seperate from the transplant team.

Will donation interfere with having an open-casket funeral?

NO! After the organ removal takes place in the operating room, surgeons will complete the surgery as usual and you will be able to proceed with an open casket funeral if you wish.

Does it cost anything to donate organs or tissues?

No. Your family will not incur any costs associated with the donation.

Is there an age limit for donating organs?

No. There is not a set age limit for organ and tissue donation. At the time of death the organs and tissues will be evaluated by the medical team to determine their suitability for donation.

Does my religion approve of donation?

Yes! All major religions approve of donation and consider it a gift.

What medical conditions exclude a person from donating organs?

The organs will be evaluated at the time of donation. In general, HIV and cancer normally will exclude an individual from donating organs. Those with other medical conditions are encouraged to sign-up for donating organs.

Can non-residents donate and receive organs in the US?

Yes. Non-resident aliens—people who don't live in the U.S. or aren't citizens—can both donate and receive organs in the United States. Organs are given to patients according to medical need, not citizenship.

If I register as a donor, will my wishes be carried out?

Yes. If you signed up as a deceased donor in your state registry and you are over 18, then you have legally authorized your donation and no one can overrule your consent. Signing a card isn't enough. If you are under 18, your parents or legal guardian must authorize donation.

If I am a member of the LGBT community am I able to donate my organs?

Yes. Everyone is allowed to donate his or her organs. There are no exceptions to this rule. The medical team at the time of donation will determine the suitability of the organs for donation.

Section 2: Organ Matching FAQ

How are organs matched and distributed?

There is one national computerized list of every patient waiting for an organ from a deceased donor. When a donor becomes available, the computer identifies the best matched recipient for each organ the donor provides. Some factors considered in matching include compatible blood and tissue types; similar body size; severity of patient illness and time on waiting list; and distance between donor hospital and transplant hospital. Depending on the organ, specific matching factors will vary. For intestinal transplants, matches are mainly based on blood type and body size.

Can people of different ethnicities match?

Absolutely 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 specific ethnicities, all individuals have a better chance of finding a match if there are large numbers of donors from all backgrounds.

How will the right donor be found for me?

When a transplant hospital adds you to the waiting list, it is placed in a pool of names. When an organ donor becomes available, all the patients in the pool are compared to that donor. Factors such as medical urgency, time spent on the waiting list, organ size, blood type and genetic makeup are considered. The organ is offered to the candidate that is the best match.

Section 3: Waitlist FAQ

How do I get on the transplant waiting list?

There are a number of steps that you must follow before you can get on the national waiting list, including:

1. Receive a referral from your physician.

2. Contact a transplant hospital. Learn as much as possible about the numerous transplant hospitals in the United States and choose one based on your needs, including insurance, location, finances and support group availability. 3. Schedule an appointment for evaluation to determine if you are a good candidate for transplant. 4. During the evaluation, ask questions to learn as much as possible about that hospital and its transplant team. 5. The hospital’s transplant team will decide whether you are a good transplant candidate. Each hospital has their own criteria for accepting candidates for transplant. 6. If the hospital’s transplant team determines that you are a good transplant candidate, they will add you to the national waiting list.

How do I know that I am listed for transplant?

UNOS does not send patients written confirmation of their placement on the waiting list. Instead, patients should find out if they have been placed on the national waiting list through their transplant hospital. If you have questions about your status on the list, you should ask the team at your transplant hospital.

Can I be listed at more than one hospital for transplant?

Yes. This is called multiple listing. It will depend on your individual transplant center and their policies. Each center has its own criteria for listing transplant candidates, and each center can refuse to evaluate patients seeking to list at multiple centers. If you wish to list at more than one center, inform your primary center and other centers you contact.

How long will I have to wait for my transplant?

There is no way to determine how long you will have to wait for your transplant. Intestinal and multivisceral transplant wait times vary greatly, and have increased in length in recent years. It is important to consult your individual center to determine if they can give you a better idea of what patients at their center have been waiting for your particular type of transplant, however, even the information they give is not guaranteed.

Organs may become available at any given movement. If you are struggling with the waiting period, please consider participating in one of Transplant Unwrapped's Support Programs.

Can I reduce waiting time for an intestinal transplant?

Your transplant team will list you as either Status 1 or Status 2 based on your medical condition and urgency. Once listed, if your medical status changes, then your status on the list can change. Other than being listed as Status 1 or 2, there is not anything else your transplant team can do to decrease your waiting time.

If you are listed for a liver-intestine or a full multivisceral transplant, the answer to this question will be different as MELD or PELD (pediatric) scores also determine wait time.

If you wish to read more about the exact allocation policies you can review the policies from OPTN here.

Section 4: General Transplant FAQ

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.

Is it legal to pay someone for an organ?

NO. It is against federal law (Public Law 98-507) to buy or sell an organ in the United States. Violations are punishable by prison sentences and fines.

How many people are currently waiting for organs?

This number is changing constantly. A new person is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes. As of July 2020, nearly 121,000 people were on the national waiting list for all types of transplant. You can visit the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (OPTN) site for the most up-to-date information.

Is it possible to have a living donor intestinal transplant?

Yes, although not common in the United States, it is possible to have a living donor intestinal transplant. The University of Illinois-Chicago is the only center in the US offering living donor transplant. For more information about the Chicago program, please visit this site.

What information do transplant recipients get about donors?

In order to protect the donor's family's privacy, transplant recipients are typically given only a few anonymous facts about their donors. For example, that the donor was a middle-aged man in good health.

Can the donor family and transplant recipient contact one another?

One year after transplant, as a recipient you have the right to write a letter to the donor’s family by sending the letter to your transplant center who will forward it on for you. To read more about this please visit Transplant Living: Contacting Your Donor Family.

Section 5: Post-Transplant FAQ

Is it common for intestinal transplant recipients to lose some hair after transplant?

Hair loss is common after a stressful event like a major transplant surgery. Additionally, certain medications or nutritional deficiencies can also cause hair loss. Talk to your transplant team if you notice hair loss happening and you are concerned, but understand that it is not uncommon post-transplant.

Can I get a tattoo or piercing after transplant?

Getting tattoos or piercings are discouraged after transplant due to the risk of infection. If you wish to read more on this topic please visit our page on Life after Transplant.

Can I get pregnant after an intestinal transplant?

It is possible to get pregnant after an intestinal transplant. To date, there have been eight reported successful pregnancies post-intestinal transplant (1).


  1. Augusto Lauro, Cal S. Matsumoto, Ignazio R. Marino & Vincenzo Berghella (2017) A review on pregnancy after intestinal transplantation, The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 30:2, 205-212, DOI: 10.3109/14767058.2016.1168801

When should I call my transplant coordinator or doctor after my transplant?

Your individual transplant center will designate criteria on when they recommend you call them based on certain signs and symptoms. If you are having an emergency, please proceed to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.

In general, if you are experiencing the following signs and symptoms it is always a good idea to contact your transplant coordinator on call:

  • Fever >100.4o (or as designated by your transplant center)
  • Blood pressure readings that are significantly higher or lower than your usual limits
  • Changes in your urine: increased or decreased amount from the ordinary; blood in the urine; rusty color to the urine; foul smelling urine; burning sensation when you urinate
  • Edema: fluid or swelling in the face, abdomen, or legs
  • Weight gain of two to three pounds/ 1 kilogram in one night
  • A new pain
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Chest pain or tightness in the chest
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Inability to take your medications or take care of yourself
  • Light headedness or feeling like you are going to faint
  • Being unusually weak or tired

Can a post-transplant patient drink alcohol?

A transplant patient should not drink alcohol because it can interact with medications. Alcohol can also cause organ damage or failure and is detrimental to overall health, therefore, should be avoided.

Section 6: Additional Resources

Ask the Expert FAQ

Looking for more answers? Visit our Ask the Expert FAQ Section. You can also submit a question to one of our experts here.

Page References

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