Organ Dona­tion and Transplantation

A sin­gle organ donor can save up to eight lives. 

Heart Trans­plants

The heart is the hard­est work­ing mus­cle in our bod­ies, pump­ing blood through­out the body. And just like any mus­cle, it can be sub­ject to fatigue, espe­cial­ly if it has been weak­ened by a num­ber of car­dio­vas­cu­lar diseases.

A wide range of heart dis­eases may make trans­plan­ta­tion nec­es­sary. This usu­al­ly fol­lows con­di­tions such as coro­nary artery dis­ease, car­diomy­opa­thy or weak­en­ing of the heart muscle.

The only option, if no trans­plant is imme­di­ate­ly avail­able, is for the patient to be assist­ed with a mechan­i­cal heart called an LVAD (Left Ven­tric­u­lar Assist Device), which can be sur­gi­cal­ly implant­ed to main­tain blood pump­ing until a trans­plant is available.

Quick Facts

  • Donat­ed hearts are allo­cat­ed to patients based on med­ical urgency, blood type com­pat­i­bil­i­ty, size match and wait­ing list time.
  • A donat­ed heart can only remain out­side of the body for about four hours before it must be transplanted.

Kid­ney Transplants

The kid­neys func­tion as our body’s fil­ters, clean­ing blood of waste and impu­ri­ties. They also release hor­mones that reg­u­late blood pres­sure, con­trol pro­duc­tion of red blood cells, and pro­mote growth of healthy bones.

Inher­it­ed kid­ney dis­eases such as poly­cys­tic kid­ney dis­ease as well as dia­betes and high blood pres­sure are the most com­mon caus­es of kid­ney fail­ure requir­ing trans­plant. If left untreat­ed, kid­ney fail­ure can be fatal. Pri­or to trans­plant, most patients require dial­y­sis, a mechan­i­cal treat­ment to fil­ter the blood to rid your body of harm­ful wastes, extra salt and water.

While most peo­ple are born with two kid­neys, we can sur­vive with one. That is how indi­vid­u­als are able to be liv­ing kid­ney donors, and help save the lives of a loved one or even a com­plete stranger.

Quick Facts

  • Of those on the wait­ing list, more than one-third will wait three or more years for a transplant.

Liv­er Transplants

The liv­er is the largest organ in the body. It is a com­plex organ respon­si­ble for hun­dreds of cru­cial func­tions such as the break­down of harm­ful sub­stances in our blood and the pro­duc­tion of bile that aids in digestion.

Liv­er fail­ure can be caused from viral infec­tions, genet­ic dis­or­ders or even alco­holism. These liv­er dis­eases lead to cir­rho­sis, which cre­ates scar tis­sue that blocks the flow of blood and thus impedes its func­tions. Pri­ma­ry bil­iary atre­sia, a mal­for­ma­tion of the liver’s bile ducts, is the most com­mon dis­ease lead­ing to trans­plant in young children.

Most liv­er trans­plants involve trans­plant­i­ng the entire liv­er, where the dis­eased liv­er is removed and replaced with a healthy one. But it is pos­si­ble to trans­plant part of a liv­er, as the organ can regen­er­ate itself with­in the body. This is how it is pos­si­ble for peo­ple to be liv­ing liv­er donors, as both the trans­plant­ed lobe and the donor’s lobe will grow in their respec­tive bodies.

Quick Facts

  • Hepati­tis C is the most com­mon cause of liv­er fail­ure lead­ing to liv­er transplantation.
  • A liv­er donat­ed by an adult can often be split and trans­plant­ed into two people.
  • There are more than 16,000 patients cur­rent­ly await­ing liv­er transplants.

Lung Trans­plants

A healthy per­son breathes at least 12 to 14 times per minute remov­ing car­bon diox­ide from the blood and exchang­ing it with oxygen.

While a per­son can live a nor­mal life with only 30 per­cent of lung func­tion. Lung trans­plants are rec­om­mend­ed for those with severe lung dis­ease, such as cys­tic fibro­sis, COPD (chron­ic obstruc­tive pul­monary dis­ease) and emphysema.

Patients on the lung trans­plant wait­ing list are often severe­ly dis­abled and might even require oxy­gen 24-hours-a-day. This is why it is cru­cial for these indi­vid­u­als to receive a trans­plant in a time­ly fash­ion. Liv­ing lung dona­tion is a pos­si­bil­i­ty in rare cas­es, as two liv­ing donors can each offer a lobe their lungs, which are then both trans­plant­ed into the patient.

Quick Facts

  • The most com­mon type of lung trans­plant is a sin­gle lung transplant.
  • More than 1,700 patients await lung trans­plants in the U.S.
  • Lungs are allo­cat­ed to patients based on sev­er­al fac­tors includ­ing dis­tance from donor, med­ical con­di­tion, and age (lungs from pedi­atric and ado­les­cent donors are offered first to pedi­atric and ado­les­cent patients).

Pan­creas Transplants

The pan­creas is a glan­du­lar organ locat­ed behind the stom­ach. It secretes enzymes that help break down food in the small intes­tine. It also pro­duces hor­mones that help con­trol blood sug­ar lev­els. Prob­lems with the pan­creas such as pan­cre­ati­tis (inflam­ma­tion of the pan­creas), pan­cre­at­ic can­cer, and cys­tic fibro­sis (a genet­ic dis­or­der in which thick, sticky mucus block tubes in your pan­creas) can lead to many health problems.

The pan­creas also plays a role in dia­betes. In type I dia­betes, the beta cells of the pan­creas no longer make insulin (a hor­mone required to reg­u­late sug­ar lev­els in the blood). An indi­vid­ual with type I dia­betes has to take insulin injec­tions. In type II dia­betes, the body does not use insulin prop­er­ly lead­ing to insulin resis­tance. The pan­creas pro­duces extra insulin in response but over time it los­es the abil­i­ty to secrete enough insulin in response to food consumption.

Dia­betes can cause major prob­lems in the body includ­ing kid­ney fail­ure, heart dis­ease, strokes and even death.

Quick Facts

  • The pan­creas is most com­mon­ly trans­plant­ed in com­bi­na­tion with the kidney.
  • There are more than 1,300 patients await­ing pan­creas trans­plants and more than 2,100 patients await­ing com­bine pan­creas and kid­ney trans­plants in the U.S.

Intes­tine Transplants

Small intes­tine trans­plants are less com­mon than oth­er organ trans­plants and most often are trans­plant­ed in com­bi­na­tion with the liv­er and pan­creas in small children.

The intestines – both the small and large – run 25 feet long through­out our bod­ies, digest­ing food and help­ing the body to absorb the nec­es­sary nutri­ents while also get­ting rid of the waste prod­ucts. The small intes­tine han­dles much of the nutri­ent absorp­tion, while the large intestines reab­sorbs water from digest­ed foods and send it back into the blood stream. 

The most com­mon rea­son lead­ing to trans­plant is con­gen­i­tal mal­for­ma­tions, inflam­ma­to­ry dis­or­ders (i.e. Crohn’s Dis­ease), short bow­el syn­drome fol­low­ing exten­sive bow­el surg­eries caused by con­di­tions such as tumors or ischemia (can lead to dead tis­sue), and absorp­tion impairment. 

Tis­sue Dona­tion and Transplantation

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple in the U.S. ben­e­fit from life-enhanc­ing tis­sue trans­plants each year. While the dona­tion of organs is pri­mar­i­ly lim­it­ed to patients who die as a result of brain death, vir­tu­al­ly any­one who dies as a result of car­diopul­monary death — the heart stops beat­ing — can be con­sid­ered a tis­sue donor.


The cornea is the clear lay­er on the front of the eye. A corneal trans­plant is surgery to replace the cornea with tis­sue from a donor. It is one of the most com­mon trans­plants done with a very high suc­cess rate. Corneal trans­plan­ta­tion is rec­om­mend­ed for peo­ple who have:

  • Vision prob­lems caused by thin­ning of the cornea, usu­al­ly due to keratoconus
  • Scar­ring of the cornea from severe infec­tions or injuries
  • Vision loss caused by cloudi­ness of the cornea, usu­al­ly due to Fuchs’ dystrophy


Bones and ten­dons can be used to replace or recon­struct tis­sue destroyed by tumors, trau­ma or infec­tion, sav­ing limbs that would oth­er­wise be ampu­tat­ed. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of patients ben­e­fit from trans­plants using donat­ed bone for surg­eries rang­ing from den­tal surgery, knee recon­struc­tion and back surgery. Bone, ten­don and relat­ed tis­sues are processed by bone banks and made avail­able to sur­geons on an as need­ed basis.

Heart Valves

Donat­ed heart valves can replace dam­aged ones, allow­ing the heart to func­tion again. When used in young patients, these donat­ed heart valves can actu­al­ly grow” with the recip­i­ent and reduce the need for repeat­ed surg­eries. Human heart valves have advan­tages over mechan­i­cal valves because of low­er risk of infec­tion and no need for blood thin­ning drugs required with mechan­i­cal valves.

Blood Vessels/​Veins

Donat­ed blood ves­sels or veins can be used in patients who require coro­nary artery bypass surgery, a rou­tine pro­ce­dure that saves thou­sands of lives and allows these indi­vid­u­als to return to their nor­mal lifestyles. For indi­vid­u­als suf­fer­ing from dia­betes or oth­er dis­eases that cause a decrease in the blood flow, sur­geons may use donat­ed veins to repair dam­aged ves­sels and restore blood flow — in many cas­es sav­ing a recipient’s leg from ampu­ta­tion. The saphe­nous vein, a long vein on the inside of the leg, is the pri­ma­ry vein recov­ered from donors for transplant.


Donat­ed skin is need­ed for patients suf­fer­ing from burns or trau­ma, and used as a tem­po­rary cov­er­ing to pro­tect the body from infec­tion and pro­mote heal­ing. Donat­ed skin is also used for cleft palate repair or mas­tec­to­my reconstruction.

The HOPE Act and Hepatitis Positive Donors

At Iowa Donor Net­work, we believe in the pow­er of giv­ing every indi­vid­ual a chance at life, regard­less of their med­ical his­to­ry. With the pass­ing of the HIV Organ Pol­i­cy Equi­ty (HOPE) Act, new doors have opened for those in need of organ trans­plants. This land­mark leg­is­la­tion allows organs from HIV-pos­i­tive donors to be trans­plant­ed into HIV-pos­i­tive recip­i­ents. This not only increas­es the donor pool but also offers a renewed hope to HIV-pos­i­tive patients wait­ing for a transplant.

Sim­i­lar­ly, advance­ments in med­ical sci­ence and chang­ing poli­cies have also made it pos­si­ble for organs from Hepati­tis-pos­i­tive donors to be uti­lized for patients with the same con­di­tion. These devel­op­ments are reduc­ing the wait times and offer­ing more indi­vid­u­als a sec­ond chance at life.

Our Vision:

All are inspired to donate life.