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How LifeSharers Works

LifeSharers members give fellow members preferred access to their organs.  In other words, they want their organs to be offered first to other LifeSharers members, if any member is a suitable match, before being offered to non-members.

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To see how this is accomplished, it's useful to understand how the nationwide organ distribution system works.  Getting on the waiting list is the first step, and getting an organ is (hopefully) the last step.

HOW DOES THE ORGAN DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM WORK?

Getting on the organ waiting list

If you have an organ that is failing, there may be several treatment options, including an organ transplant.  If you and your doctor decide to pursue a transplant, you will have to find a transplant center that will agree to treat you.

If you are accepted by a transplant center, you will become part of the nationwide organ distribution system.  This system is called the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN).  It is operated by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a private non-profit organization, under a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  UNOS maintains a national waiting list of eligible transplant patients awaiting organs, and establishes policies that help decide who gets offered which organs.

Your transplant center will contact the UNOS Organ Center to put your name on the waiting list.  The UNOS Organ Center will record lots of information about you, including your physical condition, blood type, and age.

Getting an organ

When an organ becomes available, the local organ procurement organization (OPO) gathers relevant information about the donor and enters it into a computer program maintained by the UNOS Organ Center.  This program generates a ranked list of potential recipients from the UNOS waiting list.  This list is called the match run.  The rankings are based on several criteria, including physical compatibility between the donor and the recipient, the recipient’s health, and how long the recipient has been on the waiting list.

If you are the highest-ranking person on the UNOS match run, the OPO will contact your transplant center.  Your transplant center will decide whether or not to accept the organ, depending on factors that will include your availability for surgery, the quality of the match between you and the donor, and the physical characteristics of the organ.  If your transplant center accepts the organ, the organ will be procured and sent to your transplant center for your transplant operation.  If they reject it, the OPO will contact the transplant center for the next-highest-ranking patient on the match run.

HOW DOES THE ORGAN DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM WORK FOR LIFESHARERS MEMBERS?

Getting on the organ waiting list

If you are a LifeSharers member, you go through the exact same process described above to get on the waiting list.  You also send an email to info@lifesharers.org to let LifeSharers know you are on the national waiting list.

Getting an organ

If an available organ is not from a LifeSharers member, the process of determining who gets it is exactly the same as described above.  The OPO will offer your transplant center the organ if you are the highest-ranking person on the UNOS match run.

If the organ is from a LifeSharers member, the highest-ranked qualified LifeSharers member (if any) on the UNOS match run is the designated donee of that organ if that person is a suitable match.  This is based on the language in the LifeSharers membership agreement (and on the LifeSharers donor card):  "It is my express wish that my organs be donated first to members of the LifeSharers network, unless no LifeSharers member is a suitable match.  For each organ of my body donated, I designate as donee that LifeSharers member who is the most suitable match as defined by the criteria in use by LifeSharers at the time of my death."  In the absence of a UNOS match run for a member's organ, LifeSharers will identify the designated donee based on information available at the time.

We rely on the deceased member's next-of-kin to make sure that the member's wishes are honored, to obtain the names of eligible LifeSharers members who need organs, to provide the names of those individuals to the OPO, and to direct the member's organs to their designated donees. Next-of-kin can get the names of LifeSharers members who need organs by telephoning LifeSharers at 1-888-ORGAN88 or 1-888-674-2688.

We rely on the OPO to obtain the UNOS match run that will help identify the designated donee for the organ, and to facilitate the organ procurement process.  If you are the designated donee, and if the deceased member's next-of-kin directs the donation to you, the organ will be offered to your transplant center on your behalf.  If your transplant center accepts the organ, it will be procured and sent to your center for your operation.  If they reject it, the organ will be offered to someone else.  This person may or may not be a LifeSharers member.

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