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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Organ Donor > Learn > How Donation Works

How Organ Donation Works

How does donation work? How are organs matched? This section explains the donation and transplant process. For more organ donation information, read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) below.


More than 165 million people have registered as organ donors, but only about 3 in 1,000 can actually become donors when they die. Learn about the process of becoming a deceased organ donor.

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While most organ and tissue donations occur after the donor has died, some organs (including a kidney or part of a liver or lung) and tissues can be donated while the donor is alive. There are about as many living donors every year as there are deceased donors.

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Patients on the waiting list are registered in a national computer network. Whenever donor organs are identified, a nationwide computer program at the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) exit disclaimer generates a list of potential recipients ranked by certain criteria. Here are some of the common factors and specific criteria used for matching.

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Learn about how patients whose organs are failing are placed on the transplant waiting list, the matching process, surgery, and what happens after the transplant.

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Real Stories of Donation

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Amalia: Heart Recipient

"If not for her heart transplant, Amalia would have missed watching her family grow up….”

Read Amalia's full story >