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Organ, Tissue and Eye Donation

Service Listing

General Service and Contact Information

For information on how to record your wishes to donate organs and/or tissues after you die, visit the Organ and Tissue Donation Registry.

Questions? Contact us edmdonation@ahs.ca

How Charity saved a life

Living organ donor lives up to her name with gift of a new kidney

When Charity Bradfield learned that her friend’s father, David Wright, was on the wait list for a new kidney, she didn’t hesitate to make the most selfless decision of her life.

Read more >>

About Us

Organ and tissue donation services in Alberta are provided using a collaborative approach by specialized programs located within Edmonton and Calgary. Successful inspections by Health Canada have demonstrated strict adherence to all transplantation safety standards.

Northern Alberta - Transplant Services - Edmonton Area

Human Organ Procurement and Exchange Program (HOPE)

  • Coordination of the deceased organ donation process.

Comprehensive Tissue Centre (CTC)

  • Facilitation of the tissue donation process for both deceased and living tissue donors.
  • Accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB) and the International Standards Organization (ISO)

Clinical Islet Lab (CIL)

  • Isolation of insulin-producing islet cells from a donor pancreas, for transplantation

Living Organ Donor Programs

  • Facilitation of the living organ donation process.

Southern Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Program

Southern Alberta Organ Donation Program

  • Coordination of the deceased organ donation process.

Lions Eye Bank

  • Facilitation of eye donation
  • Accredited by the Eye Bank Association of American (EBAA)

Southern Alberta Tissue Program

  • Accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB)
  • Facilitation of the tissue donation process for both deceased and living tissue donors

Southern Alberta Transplant Program

Living Kidney Donor Program

  • Facilitation of the living kidney donation process.
FAQs

About Organ Donation

Becoming an Organ/Tissue Donor

Consent to Donate

The Donation Process

About Organ/Tissue Donation

What is the difference between organ donation and tissue donation?

Organ donation refers to the removal of an organ (such as the heart, lung, kidney, etc.) from one person for transplantation into another person. Tissue donation refers to the removal of various tissues in the body (such as skin, corneas, bone, etc.) for transplantation into another person's body. There are some important differences between organ and tissue donation:

Organ Donation

In some cases, an organ donor may be a "living donor", meaning that donating the organ will not harm the donor. For example, when a brother gives one of his two kidneys to his sister or a mother gives a lobe of her liver to her child.

Otherwise, organs can only be donated to another person if both of the following conditions apply:

  • There has been severe damage to the brain that is incompatible with life; and
  • The donor has been maintained on a ventilator (respirator) until the organ is removed

An organ donor usually dies an unexpected, tragic death following severe injury to their brain. Often this is the result of a motor vehicle accident, spontaneous brain bleeding, or trauma such as a fall.

Tissue Donation

Nearly everyone can be considered for tissue donation when they die. Tissues do not require the same conditions as organs to survive, so tissue donation is possible after the heart and lungs have stopped working.

Tissues for donation must be removed within 12-24 hours after a natural or tragic death. The donor does not need to be maintained on a ventilator.

Who can donate organs and tissues?

The criterion for organ and tissue donation is always changing and there may be specific reasons a person is unable to donate. These reasons are often related to a person’s medical or social history or certain illnesses they may have. Ultimately, the organs and tissues have to be healthy and the donor must be free from diseases that could potentially be harmful to the recipient.

Which organs and tissues can be transplanted?

Organs:

  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Liver
  • Kidney
  • Pancreas
  • Pancreas Islet Cells
  • Small Bowel
  • Stomach

Tissue:

  • Cornea
  • Sclera (white of the eye)
  • Heart Valves
  • Skin
  • Bone
  • Tendons
  • Amniotic Tissue

How many people are in need of transplants?

  • There are over 4500 Canadians currently waiting for a life saving transplant, and many more are waiting for life enhancing tissue transplants.
  • There are over 700 Albertans on the transplant waitlists.

Can I donate organs or tissues while I am still alive?

Yes. Kidneys, part of the liver and part of the lung can be donated. Talk to your family doctor, who will then refer you to a specialist, or call the Living Donor Program for more information.

Living Donor programs exist within both Calgary and Edmonton. The University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton supports the living donation of the kidney and part of the lung or liver to someone close to them. The Southern Alberta Transplant Program supports living kidney donation.

Living tissue options include donation of the amniotic sac (membrane) following childbirth and donation of the top portion of the thigh bone (femoral head) following a hip replacement.

Who can I contact for more information on organ and tissue donation?

For more information on organ and tissue donation please contact the donation programs in Alberta closest to where you live. You will find this information on the ‘contact us’ page.

Becoming an Organ/Tissue Donor

How do I become an organ donor?

Organ donation is only possible if the donor has severe damage to the brain that is incompatible with life and has been maintained on a ventilator until the organ is removed. In order to become an organ donor, legal consent is required and routine screening of potential donors is done to prevent any possible risk of transmission of disease to a potential recipient.

What do I need to do in order to become an organ or tissue donor?

  • discuss your wishes regarding organ and tissue donation with your family and give them clear directions about what you would like to see done in the event of your death
  • you can sign up to be an organ and/or tissue donor by logging onto the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry
  • consider your wishes when renewing or requesting your Alberta Driver's License
  • if you are interested in living donation (for kidney, bone marrow or a lobe of the liver), contact your local living donor program, or the Bone Marrow Registry at 1-888-236-6283 or 1-888-2-DONATE. (www.bloodservices.ca)

Are there reasons that I won't be able to be an organ or tissue donor?

There is no age limit for organ donation. The quality of the organ is what is assessed. Livers have been successfully transplanted from donors in their 80’s and lungs, liver, and kidneys have transplanted from donors in their 70’s. 

Absolute contraindications for organ donation are malignancies (other than non-metastasizing brain tumors), and positive HIV status.

For tissue, donor eligibility is between birth and 80 years of age. Absolute contraindications for tissue donation are more restrictive, including but not limited to: infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C, active sepsis, and certain high risk social behaviors.

What questions will I have to answer after consenting to organ/ tissue donation?

The Donor or next-of-kin will be asked to provide answers to a standard Medical/ Social Questionnaire. This questionnaire is used to establish that the organs/ tissues from the donor are safe to transplant into another person. The questions have to do with any illnesses that the donor might have had and whether they were at risk for contracting certain illnesses. For example, did they have a history of intravenous drug use?

What is brain death?

When damage to the brain is severe, the brain swells. In the confines of the rigid skull this swelling may stop all blood flow in the brain. With no blood flow, the brain no longer receives oxygen and nutrients essential for survival and therefore dies. Once the brain dies, the body will also die. The individual no longer has the ability to breathe on his/ her own, and must be maintained on a ventilator in an Intensive Care Unit.

Sometimes, the body can be kept functioning for a short period of time through the use of medications and mechanical ventilation, however, the patient has died and the brain has ceased to function. The patient may seem warm to the touch and the heart will continue to beat, but the patient is in fact dead.

Neurological death or “brain death” is usually diagnosed with a series of clinical tests that are performed at least twice by two different physicians experienced in the determination of brain death, and who are not taking care of the intended organ recipients. The tests can tell:

  • if there is any ability to breathe without the ventilator;
  • if the patient can respond at all to various stimuli; or
  • if there is any blood flow to the brain (Brain Perfusion Scan)

It is important to know that once the determination of brain death has been made, the person has died. Brain death is a non-reversible condition and once determined, it is the legal time of death.

If someone dies outside of the hospital (i.e., nursing home, private home, or at the scene of an accident) can they still be an organ donor?

No. Organ donation is not an option, but tissue donation is possible depending on the time of death. Organ donation can only be considered when there is a beating heart which supplies blood and oxygen to the vital organs.

Can I donate my body to science and still be an organ and/or tissue donor?

No. In order for your body to be used for science, medical education and teaching, it is donated whole and therefore organ donation cannot occur. However, eye donation may still be possible.

Does the fact that an individual has become a donor remain confidential?

Legislation in Alberta ensures confidentiality for the donor. However, the donor family may share their decision with friends and relatives, or they may chose to keep it confidential.

What if I want to donate my body or the body of a family member for medical research purposes?

If you donate your body to research or science, your organs and tissues cannot be used for transplantation. Arrangements for total body donation must be made prior to death as specific information and registration is required. Arrangements are made through:

Is there a cost to the donor or the donor's family to donate organs/ tissues?

There is no cost for organ and tissue donation to the donor or to the donor's family. Alberta Health and Wellness covers all medical expenses. Organ and tissue donation is considered an act of altruistic generosity. It is illegal to sell organs/ tissues in Canada.

How do families of donors feel about organ donation after they have been through the experience?

Most families feel that organ donation has helped ease their grief. They recognize that they were given the opportunity to provide the gift of life to another person in an otherwise tragic situation.

Are any tests required before the organs and tissues can be used?

A thorough assessment takes place in the ICU to determine the stability of the donor, organ function and risk of disease. Even if the organs were healthy and strong in life, the process of death itself may cause injury, which may deem the organ unsuitable for transplant. To ensure that we transplant the safest organs possible, a review of the medical and social history is undertaken with the family; the questions are similar to the ones asked of all blood donors. A physical examination, laboratory, and diagnostic tests are performed:

  • Blood testing to detect the presence of any infectious diseases
  • Blood tests to measure liver enzymes and sometimes a biopsy of the liver tissue is done to make sure that the liver is functioning well
  • Heart tests such as blood tests, an echocardiogram, or a cardiac angiogram can be done
  • A chest x-ray and an oxygen challenge are done to make sure the lungs are healthy.
  • Kidney tests include blood work, urine testing and sometimes a biopsy.

What is the risk of contracting HIV or other diseases when receiving donated organs/ tissues?

Organs and tissues that are being considered for transplant must undergo extensive testing to ensure the organs are healthy and disease free. While the risk of disease transmission is not zero, the screening performed on organ and tissue donors ensures that the risk is extremely low. Discuss any concerns with your doctor.

What are the religious issues around organ/ tissue donation?

Organ and tissue donation is a very individual and personal matter. If you are at all concerned, you should discuss the issue with your own religious leader.

Consent to Donate

How is consent for organ/ tissue donation obtained?

For living donation, you will sign the consent form for the removal of the organ or tissue yourself

For organ donation, the next-of-kin or immediate family will be contacted by physicians in the intensive care unit. The family will be offered the option of organ and tissue donation.

For tissue donation, the next-of-kin will be offered the option of tissue donation or can bring it to the attention of the healthcare provider. This support may be facilitated by healthcare team member such as a doctor, registered nurse, social worker, or representative of the Office of the Medical Examiners office.

A family member must sign an organ donation consent form,
even if the person has registered to donate.

If I have registered to donate organs and tissues, will the quality of my medical care be compromised?

Absolutely not. All possible medical interventions will be exhausted and every effort will be made to save your life before donation is even considered.

If I register to donate organs and tissues, will my wishes be carried out?

Although registering on Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry is legally binding, your next-of-kin is still requested to sign consent in order for donation to proceed. For that reason, it is very important to discuss your wishes with your family and let them know what you would want in the event of a sudden loss or tragedy. Family members will feel better about their decision if they know the wishes of the person in advance.

Will my family be pressured to make a decision or to donate?

No. Organ and tissue donation is recognized as an altruistic and very personal gift. Families are presented with the options of what may be possible and then given the choice of what they want to do.

  • For tissue donation, the next-of-kin will be offered the option of tissue donation or can bring it to the attention of the healthcare provider. This support may be facilitated by healthcare team member such as a doctor, registered nurse, social worker, or representative of the Medical Examiners office.

A family member must sign an organ donation consent form,
even if the person has signed the back of their Alberta Personal Health Card.

Legal consent is required in order for donation to proceed. The decision to donate is a personal one, and a clear legal consent is required from the next-of-kin. The family largely drives the donation decision, and can choose to donate all organs and tissues, specific organs or tissues, or none. They also can choose what purposes the organs and tissues can be used for: transplant, scientific research and/ or medical education.

Why is the family asked to make such a difficult decision at such a stressful time?

Unfortunately, when it comes to organ and tissue donation, timing is very important. This is why it is so important for people to discuss their wishes with regard to organ and tissue donation with their family. Family members will feel better about their decision if they know the wishes of the person in advance.

The Donation Process

How long does the organ and tissue donation process take?

The time it takes to complete the organ and tissue donation process may vary, but it can take up to 24-36 hours to complete.

What is the role of the HOPE (Donor) Coordinator?

The Donor Coordinators are specially trained Registered Nurses that are responsible for:

  • coordinating all of the organ donations in their area and collaborating with the Eye and Tissue Programs
  • providing education about organ and tissue donation to members of the public and healthcare professionals
  • playing an ongoing role in organ donation research
  • providing follow-up support and communication with donor families
    • The Coordinator can be contacted at any time after the donation to provide support and answer questions regarding the experience. The Coordinator can also put you in touch with other care professionals as required.
    • Limited information about the condition of the organ and tissue recipients can be given. Sometimes no information is available as tissues from one person may go to many different recipients and the transplantations may not be done right away as with organ donation

How are organ recipients chosen?

Patients requiring transplants are matched to an available organ based on a number of factors: blood group, height, weight, medical urgency (sickest first), length of time on the waiting list, and geographical location. Medical specialists in the transplantation field choose recipients to "best match" the available organ.

Does the removal of organs/ tissues leave visible scars? Will it prevent an open casket funeral or delay the funeral?

The surgery to remove organs and tissues is done with the same care as any other surgery. Everything possible is done to ensure that the dignity of your family member is maintained and that his or her body is treated with respect. All areas that are disturbed in the removal of the organs/ tissues are reconstructed. This is especially important in situations such as eye tissue donation. In these cases, the eye area is reconstructed so that you cannot tell that surgery has been done. As a general rule, you can expect that the body of your family member will be released for the funeral 24-48 hours after the death.

In most cases, there are no visible signs that prevent an organ or tissue donor from having an open casket funeral if desired.

Fast Facts
  • Only 1-2% of deaths are potential organ donors.
  • Almost everyone can be a potential tissue donor.
  • There will never be any cost to your family or estate if you donate organs or tissues.
  • In most cases, there are no visible signs that prevent an organ or tissue donor from having an open casket funeral if desired.
  • During the surgery, organs and tissues are removed very carefully and incisions are closed with the same care provided during regular surgery.
  • Most major religions respect the individual’s right to make a personal decision regarding organ and tissue donation. Discuss the possibility with your spiritual advisor.
  • Remember that there is a greater chance you will require an organ transplant than there is of becoming an organ donor.
  • There are over 4,500 Canadians, including more than 700 Albertans, on the waiting list for an organ transplant.
  • Make your wishes known to your family. Record your wishes on the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry and/or have donation wishes noted on your Alberta Driver's License. 

One organ and tissue donor can save up to 8 lives and enhance as many as 75 more

Organs and tissues for donation

Education

Alberta Health Services donation programs support education and awareness related to organ and tissue donation. In-services are available for health care professionals and the general public.

Public

  • Civic groups
  • Associations
  • Church groups
  • Corporate awareness events
  • Universities and colleges
  • High schools

Educating our communities about the importance of organ and tissue donation is critical to saving lives. By learning the facts, individuals are empowered to not only make a decision regarding donation, but to communicate this wish to other family members.

To book an in-service, please contact your local program.

Health Care Professionals

  • Physicians, Fellows, Residents
  • Nursing
  • Allied Health
  • Health Care Professional Students
  • Professional Associations

Potential areas of focus include:

  • New employee orientation
  • Legislative requirements for donation
  • Opportunity for donation as a part of optimal end of life care
  • Donor management to optimize organ potential
  • Peri-operative management of the organ donor

We are also able to customize presentations.

Should you wish to learn more or request education related to organ and tissue donation, please contact the donation program nearest to your area.

    Donation Process

    Organ Donation

    1. Death is confirmed and the patient is maintained on organ support in the Critical Care Unit.
    2. The family is offered the option of organ & tissue donation as part of optimal end of life care.
    3. If the family wishes to proceed with donation, the Donor Coordinator speaks with them to review the donation process, obtain consent, and complete a medical/social history.
    4. Blood samples are taken and a series of diagnostic tests are done to determine suitability for transplant.
    5. Organs are matched with recipients through a national transplant waiting list using a standardized allocation process.
    6. Once recipients are located, the donor is taken to the operating room where the organs are recovered and sent to the appropriate recipient centers for transplantation
    7. If the donor is also an appropriate candidate for tissue donation, tissue recovery follows organ recovery.
    8. The donor is released to the family's chosen funeral home.

    Tissue Donation Process

    1. Death is confirmed.
    2. The family is offered the option of tissue donation as part of optimal end of life care.
    3. If the family requires additional information or wishes to proceed with donation, the Donation Professional is contacted by the relevant Health Care Provider to speak directly with the family.
    4. If the family wishes to proceed with donation, the Donation Professional obtains consent and completes a medical/social history.
    5. The tissue program(s) review medical records, assess the donor, and determine suitability for donation.
    6. The donor is taken to the operating room for tissue recovery. Corneas may be recovered in the operating room, at the bedside, or in the morgue.
    7. The tissues are processed and stored for future use.
    8. The donor is released to the family's chosen funeral home.
    Financial Contributions

    Health care touches people at every stage of life. It is the support of generous residents like you that enhances the education, research, and health-care services in our province.

    Local health foundations work in communities across Alberta to gather community support and develop partnerships. These dedicated groups are committed to helping build excellence and innovation within our system.

    A gift to Alberta Health Services is an investment in the health of your community. Support can be directed specifically to the location and area of health care that you are passionate about.

    The Alberta Organ, Tissue, and Eye Donation Programs would like to sincerely thank all who have made financial donations. The generosity of financial donors has helped to enhance the quality of the Organ and Tissue Donation in Alberta.

    Contributions are utilized in many different ways including ongoing staff development, public education, awareness activities, and equipment within our program.

    Donations

    Southern Alberta

    Generously accepted c/o:

    Southern Alberta Organ & Tissue Donation Program
    Foothills Medical Center
    1403 - 29th Street NW
    Calgary, AB T2N 2T9

    Contributions to the Southern Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Program can also be made via the Calgary Health Trust.

    Northern Alberta

    Generously accepted c/o:

    Human Organ Procurement and Exchange Program (HOPE) and/or
    Comprehensive Tissue Centre (CTC)
    Room 9423, Aberhart Building
    11402 University Avenue
    Edmonton, AB T6G 2J3

    Contributions to the Edmonton Donation and Transplant Programs can also be made via the University of Alberta Hospital Foundation - Donate Now page.