Tissue Use

  • What is the difference between organ and tissue donation?
  • Organs are the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas. Organ donors are brain-dead persons who are on mechanical support (ventilator) to ensure that all organs are maintained. All donated organs must be carefully matched between donor and recipient. Matching is done according to blood group matching and tissue compatibility.
    Human tissue includes the corneas and sclera from the eyes, heart valves, musculo-skeletal bone, skin, tendons and cartilage. Tissue is removed after the donor has passed away. A tissue donor may, or may not, be the same donor as the organ donor. No tissue compatibility is necessary, and therefore anyone can donate tissue or receive tissue.
    Medical Research. If a body cannot be used for the above-mentioned transplant purposes, it can be made available for medical research, the training of medical students or the mastery of new surgical techniques by specialists.
  • Are you required to undergo medical tests to become a donor?
  • All donors will be screened and tested for transmittable diseases, to ensure the safety of the recipients.
  • How do I become a donor?
  • The best way to ensure that your wish to become a donor is carried out is to register as an organ and tissue donor and to tell your family and loved ones about this. Besides that, all you need to do is to simply keep your donor card with you at all times.
  • May I choose which organs/tissue I would like to donate?
  • Yes, just remember to also inform your family.
  • How much will organ/tissue donation cost my family?
  • There is no cost involved for the donor or next-of-kin when you register or donate tissue. Your family or medical aid will only be liable to carry the costs for medical care provided before death, as well as funeral costs.
  • Is there any compensation for donation?
  • No, there is no compensation for the donation. It is against the law to sell or buy any human organs or tissue. Thus, no reward – monetary or otherwise, direct or indirect – will be given to the donor, the donor's estate, the donor's relative or any other person before or after death.
  • What about the Privacy Clause regarding my donation?
  • All medical test results will remain confidential and will be placed on record at the various organ or tissue donor organisations. No information regarding donors and recipients will therefore be revealed.
  • Who cannot be a donor?
  • There are several factors that render donated organ/tissue unsuitable for transplant. Any one of the following would disqualify a potential donor:
    • Death of unknown origin
    • Disease of the central nervous system
    • Hepatitis
    • HIV or sexually transmitted diseases
    Prior to donation a complete medical and social history of the potential donor will be obtained to exclude any donor with a high-risk life style.
  • Will organ or tissue donation delay the funeral arrangements?
  • Not at all. It is standard practice to retrieve organs or tissue without compromising the donor’s funeral arrangements.
  • Will my loved-one be treated with dignity?
  • Yes. Only qualified personnel are employed by the National Tissue Bank and they are bound by very strict codes of conduct to ensure that each donor is treated with the utmost respect and dignity. We work closely with funeral homes to ensure that all burial issues are handled appropriately and that the family's wishes are met.
  • Procedure of Procurement
  • The National Tissue Bank specifically procures and processes bone, skin, tendons and ligaments for the whole of South Africa and, under proper circumstances, they have up to two days to procure donated tissue. A prosthetic device is placed in the space left after procurement of bone tissue to ensure no disfigurement of the donor and to permit an open-casket funeral. Shavings of skin (dermis) are procured from the skin of the upper legs and back.
  • What are religious views concerning donation?
  • Most religions support organ and tissue donation on the basis that it is essentially a gift of life from one human to another. We encourage families to talk with a religious leader of choice for guidance.
  • Will the recipient know who the donor was?
  • No. Confidentiality is maintained at all times. The recipient may write an anonymous letter to the donor’s loved ones to express his or her gratitude for this generous gift of life. The National Tissue Bank will pass this letter on to the donor family concerned.
  • Where can bone tissue transplants be used?
  • In a number of areas:
    • Bone tissue is used to fill a void created by trauma or cancer. It takes the place of damaged or diseased bone and can stimulate new bone growth in the affected area.
    • Skin is used as a dressing on patients with burn wounds to prevent infection and promote quicker healing with less scarring.
    • Tendons are used to restore function to an injured limb.
  • Are bone tissue transplants common?
  • Bone tissue transplants are the second most common transplant performed on patients, the first being blood transfusions.
  • What is the difference between bone tissue and bone marrow?
  • Bone tissue is the skeletal bone in the arms and the legs and it is retrieved mainly from non-living donors. Bone marrow (stem cells), in contrast, can be donated only by a living donor. Contact the Sunflower Fund: 0800 12 1082 (toll free) for more details.
  • Where are bone transplants used?
  • Bone transplants are commonly used in orthopaedic, dental, plastic, reconstructive and neurosurgical procedures performed by medical specialists in their particular field of specialty.
  • Will donation delay a funeral?
  • Usually organ donation does not delay a funeral. After you die, the recovery organization will communicate with your family about the timing of organ, tissue and eye recovery. In most cases, there isn't a long delay before your body can be released.
  • Is an open-casket funeral an option for organ, tissue or eye donors?
  • Your body will be carefully reconstructed so that donation does not prevent you from having an open-casket funeral.