Organ and Tissue Donation Glossary


The process of determining how organs are distributed. Allocation includes the system of policies and guidelines, which ensure that organs are distributed in an equitable, ethical and medically sound manner.

Cut from the body (e.g. a limb)

A person registered on the organ transplant waiting list. When an organ is offered on behalf of the candidate, he or she is then referred to as a Potential Transplant Recipient (PTR).

The outer curved transparent tissues covering the iris and pupils on the outside of the eye.  Transplants are a common procedure used to restore vision for those with eye diseases and corneal infections.

Deceased Donor
An individual from whom at least one solid organ is recovered or the purpose of transplantation after suffering brain death or cardiac death.

Deceased Donor Transplant
The transplant of an organ from a deceased donor.

A mechanical process designed to partially perform kidney functions, including correcting the balance of fluids and chemicals in the body and removing wastes. See Hemodialysis and Peritoneal Dialysis

Donate Life America
Formerly the Coalition on Donation, Donate Life America is a national not-for-profit alliance of local affiliates and corporate partners that joined forces to inspire all people to Donate Life® through organ, eye and tissue donation. At the core of the organization’s education efforts are the ongoing qualitative and quantitative research of public attitudes about organ, eye and tissue donation and the development and dissemination of effective, motivating public service campaigns. Distributed at the national and community level, these multi-media campaigns effectively communicate two core messages: “Transplants give people their life back,” and “Here is how you can help.”

Founded by the transplant community in 1992, Donate Life America publishes brochures, program kits and other materials; provides technical assistance, training, information and referral services; and coordinates the National Campaign for Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation. It is comprised of national organizational members and local coalitions across the U.S. that coordinate donation related activities at the local level. Volunteer advertising agencies work with the Coalition and its committees to develop targeted mass media campaigns.

Donate Life, Done Vida
Since 2000, Donate Life and its Spanish-translation Done Vida have been the primary slogans and service mark logos of the Coalition on Donation, promoting donation as a forthright, life-affirming action. The Coalition encourages the widest possible use of its logos and materials in order to provide a sustained, unified national message about donation. Guidelines and policies are in place to ensure consistency, appropriate use, and the integrity of these national logos and materials.

Someone from whom at least one organ or tissue is recovered for the purpose of transplantation. A deceased donor is a patient who has been declared dead using either brain death or cardiac death criteria, from whom at least one vascularized solid organ is recovered for the purpose of organ transplantation. A living donor is one who donates an organ or segment of an organ for the intent of transplantation.

Donor Registries
Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, online registries provide authorized professionals access to a confidential database of registered organ donors, allowing easy and quick confirmation of an individual's consent to organ donation. All registries are voluntary and some are affiliated with the local motor vehicle bureau, while others are independently operated or OPO-based.

A Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in which an abnormal accumulation of air in tissues or organs, especially of the lungs which results in air trapping within the lungs.

End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Program
Part of the Medicare program that provides medical coverage to people with end stage kidney disease or renal failure to help pay for dialysis or transplantation.

First Person Consent Legislation
Legislation that allows donor designation to be indicated on a driver's license or an official signed donor document, which gives hospitals legal authority to proceed with organ procurement without consent from the family.

A transplanted organ or tissue.

A muscular organ that pumps blood through the body.  A heart transplant can be used to help those suffering from heart failure, as well as babies born with heart defects

Heart Valve
Tissues that prevent the back flow of blood into the heart. Heart valve transplants are used to treat malfunctioning heart valves caused by infections, birth defects and aging.

A treatment for kidney failure where the patient's blood is passed through a filtering membrane to remove excess fluid and wastes.

High blood pressure. Occurs when the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the blood vessels is higher than normal because the blood vessels have either become less elastic or have gotten smaller. Hypertension causes the heart to pump harder to move blood through the body. It can cause kidney failure and heart disease if not treated.

Relating to the weakening or reducing of your immune system’s responses to foreign material; immunosuppressive (or anti-rejection) drugs reduce your immune system’s ability to reject a transplanted organ.

A condition that occurs when a foreign substance, such as bacteria, enters your body, causing your immune system to fight the intruder. All transplant recipients can get infections more easily because their immune systems are suppressed. It is more difficult for them to recover from infection (such as urinary tract infections, colds and the flu).

The swelling, heat and redness produced when the body is injured or infected.

Informed Consent
A person's voluntary agreement, based upon adequate knowledge and understanding of relevant information, to participate in research or to undergo a diagnostic, therapeutic, or preventive procedure.

Tubular portion of the digestive system running from the stomach to the anus and serving chiefly to digest and extract nutrients from food and moisture from the by-products of digestion and to evaporate them into feces.  Transplants help those who have been diagnosed with life-threatening intestinal diseases.

In the veins

A pair of organs that remove wastes from the body through the production of urine. All of the blood in the body passes through the kidneys about 20 times every hour. Kidneys can be donated from living and deceased donors and transplanted into patients with kidney failure.

The largest organ in the body, made up of a spongy mass of wedge-shaped lobes. The liver secretes bile, which aids in digestion, helps process proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, and stores substances like vitamins. It also removes wastes from the blood. A living donor can give part of their liver, after which the liver will regenerate itself in both the donor and recipient.  A liver transplant may be used to treat various conditions that cause liver failure such as liver cancer or cirrhosis.

Living Donation
When a living person gives an organ or a portion of an organ for use in a transplant. A kidney, or portion of a liver, lung, pancreas or intestine may be donated. See also Living Donor, Organ Donation.

Living Donor (LD)
A living person who donates an organ for transplantation, such as a kidney or a segment of the lung, liver, pancreas, or intestine. Living donors may be blood relatives, emotionally related individuals, or altruistic strangers. These may also include domino heart or liver transplants. See Domino Transplant.

Living-Related Donor (LRD)
A family member who donates a kidney, part of a lung, liver or pancreas to another family member. Examples: a brother and a sister, or a parent and a child.

Living-Unrelated Donor
A person who is not related by blood, who donates a kidney, part of a lung, liver or pancreas to another person (such as a husband, wife, friend or in-law. In the last few years, stranger-to-stranger living unrelated donations have greatly increased).

The organs of respiration in which aeration of the blood takes place, consisting of a right and left lung divided into lobes. The right lung has three lobes and the left lung has two lobes.  Lung transplants are recommended for those with severe lung disease.

The compatibility between the donor and the recipient. The more appropriate the match, the greater the chance of a successful transplant.

A part of the body made up of tissues and cells that enable it to perform a particular function. Transplantable organs are the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, pancreas and intestines.

Organ Donation
To give an organ or a part of an organ to be transplanted into another person. Organ donation can occur with a deceased donor, who can give kidneys, pancreas, liver, lungs, heart, intestinal organs, and with a live donor, who can give a kidney, or a portion of the liver, lung, or intestine.

Organ Placement Process
When organs are donated, the host OPO accesses the national transplant computer system through the Internet, or contacts the Organ Center at UNOS. Information about the donor is entered into the system and a donor/recipient match is run for each donated organ. The resulting match list of potential recipients is ranked according to criteria defined in that organ’s allocation policy (i.e. blood type, tissue type, size of the organ, medical urgency of the patient as well as time already spent on the waiting list and distance between donor and recipient). Each organ has its own specific criteria.

Using the match list of potential recipients, the host OPO’s organ procurement coordinator or the Organ Placement Specialist in the Organ Center contacts the transplant center of the highest ranked patient, based on policy criteria, to be offered the organ. If the organ is turned down, the next potential recipient’s transplant center on the match list is contacted until the organ is placed. Once the organ is accepted for a patient, transportation arrangements are made and transplant surgery is scheduled. See also, Wait List, Waiting Time.

Organ Procurement
The removal or retrieval of organs from a donor for transplantation.

Organ Procurement Organization (OPO)
An organization designated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and responsible for the procurement of organs for transplantation and the promotion of organ donation. OPOs serve as the vital link between the donor and recipient and are responsible for the identification of donors, and the retrieval, preservation and transportation of organs for transplantation. They are also involved in data follow-up regarding deceased organ donors. As a resource to the community OPOs engage in public education the critical need for organ donation.

Irregularly shaped gland that lies behind the stomach and secretes pancreatic enzymes into the small intestines to aid in the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Islet cells within the pancreas secrete glucagon, which regulates blood sugar levels and insulin, which lowers blood sugar levels. If the pancreas fails, the individual becomes diabetic, and may need to take insulin. Pancreatic transplants are indicated for those with insulin-dependent Type I diabetes.

Peritoneal dialysis
A treatment technique for kidney failure that uses the patient's own body tissues inside of the (abdominal cavity to act as a filter. The intestines lie in the abdominal cavity, the space between the abdominal wall and the spine. A plastic tube called a "dialysis catheter" is placed through the abdominal wall into the abdominal cavity. A special fluid is then flushed into the abdominal cavity and washes around the intestines. The lining (peritoneum) of the abdominal cavity and of intra-abdominal organs act as a filter between this fluid and the blood stream. By using different types of solutions, waste products and excess water can be removed from the body through this process.

The process of allocating donated organs via the match system.

Potential Donor
A patient who meets the criteria for brain death with no absolute contraindications to organ donation as defined by a standardized list from the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision.

Potential Transplant Recipient (PTR)
A transplant candidate who has been ranked by the computer matching system as the person to whom an organ from a specific deceased organ donor is to be offered.

The surgical procedure of removing an organ from a donor. Also referred to as recovery.

A person who receives a transplant.

Recovery (Organ)
The surgical procedure of removing an organ from a donor.

A phenomenon that occurs when a recipient's immune system attacks a transplanted organ, tissue, or cell. Immunosuppressive drugs help prevent or treat rejection.

Having to do with, or referring to, the kidneys.

The surgical procedure of organ recovery. Also referred to as procurement.

A tissue which protects the body from infection and injury. Skin transplants, referred to as skin grafts, are used to treat severe burns, extensive wounding and skin loss due to infection.

Stem Cells
An embryonic or primitive cell that gives rise to all types of specialized cells.

Tissues which attach muscles to bones. Tendon transplants are recommended for patients who have lost muscle function and due to nerve injury or damage to tendons

An organization of a great many similar cells that perform a special function. Examples of tissues that can be transplanted are blood, bones, bone marrow, corneas, heart valves, ligaments, saphenous veins, and tendons.

The moving of an organ or tissue from one body to another for the purpose of replacing the recipient's damaged or absent organ or tissue.

Referring to blood vessels and circulation.

Branching vessels that carry blood toward the heart

Waiting List
The list of candidates registered to receive organ transplants. When a donor organ becomes available, the matching system generates a new, more specific list of potential recipients based on the criteria defined in that organ’s allocation policy (e.g., organ type, geographic local and regional area, genetic compatibility measures, details about the condition of the organ, the candidate’s disease severity, time spent waiting, etc.).

Waiting Time
The amount of time a candidate is on the Wait List. Waiting times can be influenced by many factors, including:

  • blood type (some are rarer than others)
  • tissue type
  • height and weight of transplant candidate
  • size of donated organ
  • medical urgency
  • time on the waiting list
  • the distance between the donor’s hospital and the potential donor organ
  • how many donors there are in the local area over a period of time and
  • the transplant center’s criteria for accepting organ offers

Terms in this glossary are, in part, from Health Resources and Services Administration contract 234-2005-37011C  The content is the responsibility of the authors alone and does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.