Where do donor livers come from?
Donor livers are obtained from individuals who have suffered catastrophic brain injuries or brain hemorrhage. These individuals have been declared dead due to the lack of function of the brain. When such an individual is identified, consent for organ removal is obtained from their next of kin. Information about the donor is entered into a national computer network and local, regional and national lists of potential recipients for the donor organs are obtained by the local organ procurement organization. The group that maintains the national computerized transplant network is called the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) http://www.unos.org/. This organization has the government contract to match donors with patients who require transplantation. Within each local area, there are organ procurement organizations that handle the identification and removal of transplantable organs from brain-dead individuals and also ensure that these organs are placed according to criteria established by UNOS. In Houston, LifeGift is the local organ procurement organization (http://www.lifegift.org/).
Do donor and recipient have to be matched by tissue type, sex, age, etc.?
No. For liver transplants, the only requirements are that the recipient and the donor need to be of a compatible size and compatible blood type. No other matching is necessary. It is possible at present to take parts of larger livers and place them into smaller children. These procedures are called reduced-size transplants. Livers grow and these transplanted livers develop normally with the growing child.
How can I donate my organs?
If you wish to be an organ donor, carry an organ donor card and place an organ donor sticker on your medical identification card. Most importantly, you must discuss the decision about organ donation with your family members. At the time of organ donation, you will be unable to communicate your wishes and your family will be asked to provide for consent. Unless you have discussed it with your family, it will be more difficult for them to make the decision about donating your organs.