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Transplants in Oklahoma: The Gift of Life

01 December 2017

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When most people think about the holiday season, they picture hot cocoa, gathering with family and red and green decorations galore. While many celebrate by spreading holiday cheer, others recognize the winter months as the season of giving. Year after year, Oklahomans leave the hustle and bustle behind and take time to show compassion during the holidays by donating gifts for children in need, volunteering at food banks or collecting warm clothes for the homeless.

If you’re looking for ways to give back this season, we encourage you to consider the 700 Oklahomans in need of a different type of gift this season: the gift of life.

“Oklahomans should consider becoming organ, eye and tissue donors because the need is great,” says Heather Dean, public relations coordinator at LifeShare Transplant Donor Services of Oklahoma. “Currently, 117,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for a lifesaving transplant, with 700 of those being your fellow Oklahomans.”

Giving the gift of life has never been easier. All of you have to do is join the 58 percent of Oklahomans currently registered as organ, eye and tissue donors.

Becoming an organ donor in Oklahoma

Did you know that one organ donor can save the lives of eight people in need of an organ transplant? Or that one tissue donor can help 75 different people? Last year alone, 325 Oklahomans received lifesaving transplants that allowed them to lead happy and healthy lives.

Becoming an organ donor in Oklahoma is quick, easy and free. LifeShare Transplant Donor Services of Oklahoma, a nonprofit, federally-designated organ procurement organization (OPO), covers all of the fees associated with testing, procedures and evaluations relating to organ, eye or tissue donation in the state.

“LifeShare saves lives by recovering organs and tissue for transplant,” says Dean. “Additionally, we raise awareness for the need for donors through public education and also provide support to individuals and families on their donation journey.”

You can register to be a donor at any age, but those under the age of 18 will need consent from a parent or guardian. Registration to be an organ, eye and tissue donor can be completed using one of the following methods.

At your local Oklahoma DMV office – You can register as an organ donor when you apply for or renew your Oklahoma state ID card or driver’s license. When filling out the necessary forms to get your ID, you’ll be asked if you’d like to become an organ donor. Simply check “yes” and you’ll automatically be added to LifeShare’s Donor Registry.

Online – If you haven’t already registered through the DMV, you can register through LifeShare’s registration portal at By registering online, you can access your registry page and change your donation information should anything change. Once you’ve registered, you’ll receive a signature card in the mail that you will need to sign and return to finalize the registration process.

You can also register online through, a centralized donor registry that allows you to register as an organ donor in Oklahoma as well as add your information to a database of donors nationwide.

By mail –  If you prefer to register via mail, simply call LifeShare at (800) 826-LIFE (5433) to request that a donor registration card is sent to your address. Fill it out, sign it and send it back to LifeShare to complete the process.

Once you have registered, your eligibility for organ donation will be assessed at the time of death.

“Oklahomans should not rule themselves out from being a donation candidate,” shares Dean. “At the time of death, the appropriate medical professionals, separate from the transplant team, will review your medical and social history to determine if you are a candidate for donation.”

Living Donors

While most organs can only be donated after death, liver, kidney, lung, pancreas or intestinal transplants can be performed while the donor is still living. This is referred to as being a “living donor.” Living donations are possible because your body only requires one kidney and can function properly if a section of your liver, lung, pancreas or intestines is removed.  

While many people believe you have to be a blood relative or family member of the person in need of a transplant to become a living donor, this is simply not true. A living donor can be anyone who is deemed healthy and fit enough to donate. Ideal living donation candidates are in good health, physically fit, do not have chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, are free from psychiatric conditions, are between the ages of 18 and 60 and have been evaluated to ensure they will not experience adverse health effects as a result of the donation.

Living donations are often an option for patients who may not be able to face the typically long waiting periods to receive an organ from a deceased donor. In Oklahoma alone, there are currently 540 people waiting for a kidney transplant that could possibly be facilitated through a living donor. If you’re interested in becoming a living donor, contact the INTEGRIS Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute for more information.

The transplant process

In Oklahoma, a new name is added to the transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. The process patients must go through to receive an organ transplant is often long and arduous. Depending on the organ they need, the waiting list can range anywhere from four months to five years.

Which organs and tissues can be donated?

The organs most commonly donated are the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. For tissue donations, the cornea, skin, heart valves, bones, blood vessels and connective tissues can all be donated. Bone marrow, stem cells, umbilical cord blood and peripheral blood stem cells can also be donated.

Finding a match

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) maintains a centralized database that compiles donors and patients from all OPOs (like LifeShare) and transplant centers across the country. UNOS uses its database to match donated organs with transplant candidates using a wide range of factors that ultimately allow as many lives to be saved as possible. Donor and recipient matching also takes into account the candidates’ best chances of living a long and happy life.

According to LifeShare, the following are some of the many factors taken into consideration when matching organs with potential recipients.

  • Recipient’s age
  • Blood type of recipient and donor
  • Medical urgency for recipient
  • How long the recipient has waited for the transplant
  • Geographic distance between the donor and recipient
  • Size of the donor organ in relation to the recipient
  • Type of organ needed by the recipient

Only medical or logistical factors are used to determine recipient eligibility. The recipient’s insurance coverage and income level do not play a role.

Waiting times

Most transplant candidates have to wait for available organs or tissues due to a lack of deceased donors. The exception is when organ recipients are receiving a transplant from a living donor, which often speeds up the transplant process. Waiting times vary depending on the organ needed as well as the factors mentioned above. Average waiting times are as follows.

  • Kidney – Five years
  • Pancreas – Two years
  • Liver – 11 months
  • Heart –  Four months
  • Lung –  Four months
  • Kidney/pancreas –  One and a half years

Unfortunately, because of a shortage of donors and long wait times, not everyone who needs a transplant will receive one. In the U.S., 22 people die while waiting for a lifesaving transplant each and every day. Last year, 27 Oklahomans died while still on the waiting list.

However, according to UNOS, organ transplants performed in the U.S. reached a record high of 33,606 in 2016, an 8.5 percent increase from 2015. As more and more Americans and Oklahomans become aware of the need for organ donation, this number, as well as the number of saved lives it represents, will only increase.

The INTEGRIS Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute

Founded in 1984, the INTEGRIS Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute brings together the best organ transplant surgeons in the region, specializing in heart, kidney, lung, liver and pancreas transplants as well as intestinal rehabilitation and advanced endoscopy and pancreaticobiliary surgery. The institute also offers a state-of-the-art organ transplant intensive care unit as well as a comprehensive transplant medicine program, specializing in the treatment of conditions for liver, kidney, pancreas, heart and lung issues.

The INTEGRIS organ transplant team has flown to more than 20 states to retrieve donated organs for transplant receivers, benefitting from its centralized location in Oklahoma City. In 2015, the Institute performed 33 liver transplants, 22 lung transplants, 107 kidney transplants and 21 heart transplants. Contact the INTEGRIS Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute for more information.

“We encourage all Oklahomans to have the important conversation about donation with their friends and family, so that their final wishes are known,” says Dean. Give the gift of life this holiday season by registering to become a lifesaving organ donor today.  

infographic of transplant stats