The organ recovery process is coordinated by Iowa Donor Network. The donor is taken to the operating room and prepped for surgery after the transplant surgical team arrives to the donor hospital. The transplant surgeon(s) involved in the recovery prepare the organs for removal through one centralized incision. Once organs are prepared, a cold preservation solution is infused through the organs via cannulas placed by the transplant surgeons. Organs are typically removed from the donor in the following order depending on which organs will be transplanted: heart, lungs, liver, small bowel, pancreas, and kidneys. After organs are removed, the transplant surgeon(s) will further examine the anatomy of the organs to ensure that they are transplantable. The Iowa Donor Network coordinators are then responsible for the packaging of the organs according to standards set by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). The entire organ recovery process typically averages 4-6 hours depending on which organs are being recovered. After organs are removed, the incision is surgically closed and does not interfere with an open-casket funeral.
This entire process must be carefully coordinated due to the limited amount of time that the organ remains viable for transplant. In addition, the recipient transplant surgeries must be carefully coordinated with the recovery of the organs. Therefore, recipients’ surgeries are often started during or immediately following the recovery of the organs from the donor.
The recovery of organs in the hospital’s operating room does require a complete operating room staff including an anesthesiologist or certified nurse anesthetist and at least one circulator and one scrub technician from the hospital. Additional information on supplies needed and how to set up the operating room for the organ recovery are available below.