Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about organ and tissue donation.

How do I register as a donor in NC?

Through the North Carolina Heart Prevails Law (Session Law 2007-538), if you have registered your decision to be a donor, your wishes cannot be overturned by others. It relieves the family of making this decision on your behalf, so please be sure to tell them when you join the registry.

In North Carolina, you can register as a donor in three easy ways:

   1) Request that a heart be placed on your driver's license at the DMV.

If you register via the DMV, a red heart will be placed on your driver's license or ID card. This symbol means that you are giving legal authorization for the donation of your organs and corneas/eyes after you die. It does not include tissue donation, nor does it include whole body donation.

   2) Register on the online donor registry at DonateLifeNC.org.

If you register online at DonateLifeNC.org, you can be more specific about your donation wishes. For example, you can choose which organs or tissues you want to donate and exclude those you do not want to donate. You can also register your decision about the disposition of your organs/tissues/eyes in case they cannot be used for transplant.

If you have a heart on your driver's license you can also register as a donor online, your online record supersedes your DMV record because it is the more specific donation document.

   3) Complete a paper enrollment form and mail it to Donate Life North Carolina, P.O. Box 51262, Durham, NC 27717. To obtain a form, please call 1-800-200-2672.

What organs and tissues can be donated and how are they used?

Organs that can be donated include the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, kidneys, and small intestines. Organs are used to save lives by replacing diseased organs with healthy ones. Tissues that can be donated include skin, bone, corneas, heart valves, and veins. Skin grafts are used for burn victims, dental surgeries and reconstructive surgeries; bone, tendons and ligaments can be used in reconstructive surgeries; corneas are transplanted to give sight; heart valves are used in valve replacement surgery, common in children, and leg veins can be used in heart bypass surgery.

If I change my mind, how can I change my donor record?

If your donor registration (red heart) is on your NC driver's license, you can create an online donor record that will supersede your DMV donor record:

1) Go to DonateLifeNC.org

2) Log in by entering your driver's license number and date of birth.

3) After you log in, scroll to the very bottom of the page. Under the "Terms" section, you will see a box that says "Remove me from the donor registry." Click that box to remove your name from the online donor registry. Because this online donor record is more detailed, it supersedes your DMV donor record.

However, because we have read-only access to DMV data, it will not change the donor designation on your driver's license. The next time you renew your driver's license, please tell the examiner that you would like the donor designation removed from your license, so your online donor record and your DMV donor record will match. In the meantime, your online donor record is the one that will be followed since it is the most detailed record.

If you registered via the website (DonateLifenc.org)

1) Click on the right hand box that says "Register Today"

2) Click "Update My Profile."

3) Enter your Registration ID, date of birth and passcode. You should have gotten the Registration ID when you first registered, but if you don't have it, there is a button on the page that you can click on to have it sent to you via e-mail.

4) Once you enter those three fields correctly, you should be able to see your donor record and make any changes you'd like. If you wish to remove your donor designation, click on the green "Edit Donor" box. The top field (donor status) has a drop down menu where you can choose "removed." This will remove your donor record from the online registry.

In addition, one of the most important things you can do is make sure your family knows your wishes regarding donation. Whether you wish to be a donor - or not - it is important to share your decision with your family.

Is there any cost to my family if I am an organ/tissue donor?

No. All costs associated with donation are paid by the organ procurement organization. Your family is only responsible for hospital charges before the death declaration and for funeral expenses.

Will becoming a registered donor affect the quality of medical care I receive?

Absolutely not. Medical care is always based on what is necessary to save a patient’s life. Patients can be considered for donation only after they are declared dead.

Is there any age limit for donation?

No. Potential donors are evaluated on an individual basis, regardless of age.

Is it true that only rich people get transplants?

No. Factors such as race, gender, age, income, or celebrity status are never considered when determining who receives an organ. The organ allocation and distribution system is based on many factors including blood type, length of time on waiting list, geographical location, severity of illness and other medical criteria. There is NO way to buy a place on the waiting list.

Are there any racial barriers to donation and matching organs?

No. Race is not a barrier, nor is it a criterion for organ placement. A computer database matches organ donors with potential recipients according to medical suitability. However, patients waiting for kidney transplants are more likely to have an antigen match with a donor of the same race.

If I am in good health can I sell my organs for money?

No. It is against the law to buy or sell organs in the United States.

Can I be a donor if I have or have had cancer?

It depends on the type of cancer. People who have or have had some forms of cancer can be eye donors. People with primary brain tumors can often be organ donors. Most people can be an organ and tissue donor if they have been cancer-free for at least five years. Patients with current cancer or history of cancer are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Can my organs be used if I die at home?

Unfortunately, no. However, tissue and eye donation can occur when someone dies at home. Organs must have a continuous blood and oxygen supply to be suitable for transplantation. Only individuals who die in the hospital have the potential to be organ donors. Most patients who have the opportunity for organ donation have been determined brain dead, usually in a hospital intensive care unit. In certain circumstances, patients who have a have a cardiac death in the hospital can be donors, but these are very limited.

What does “brain death” mean?

Brain death means a patient has been declared dead by neurologic criteria. Brain death is the complete and total cessation of all brain function including the brain stem. This means the brain is no longer functioning. There is no blood flow through the brain. The patient is no longer alive even though the bodily functions are being maintained by artificial means such as a ventilator. Brain dead patients cannot respond to any outside stimuli. If a patient is determined to be brain dead, they are clinically and legally dead.  A death certificate will be completed for patients who are declared dead by neurologic criteria (brain death) or cardio-respiratory (circulatory death). There is no legal differentiation between brain death and circulatory death. Brain death is not the same as being in a coma, since coma patients still have brain function and respond to some stimuli.

What is Donation after Circulatory Death (DCD)?

Donation after Circulatory Death (DCD) is organ donation from a patient who dies from cardiac arrest rather than being determined to be brain dead. A DCD donor is a patient who is on a ventilator but does not meet brain death criteria. The patient is ventilator dependent to live. Donation options are presented to the family after the family decides to discontinue ventilator support. Once the heart has stopped beating and the patient is no longer breathing, the patient is declared dead by a medical professional not affiliated with organ transplantation. The organ donation process takes place soon after death is declared. If cardiac arrest doesn’t happen in a certain amount of time, donation doesn’t take place.

DCD donation increases the number of organs available for transplant and is a source of donation that can help to alleviate the shortage of organs. It also allows more people who wish to donate, the ability to do so. DCD donors most often donate kidneys and, in less common circumstances, liver, pancreas, lungs and heart. 

If I am a donor, will there be a delay in funeral services?

In most cases, no. Usually, the procedure can be completed and the body released to the funeral home the next day.

Can I still have an open casket funeral?

Yes. Organ and tissue recoveries are conducted in the operating room under the direction of qualified surgical personnel. An incision is made, closed, and dressed; therefore, the body’s appearance is not changed by the donation process. Also, the identity of the donor family is kept confidential so no one will know that donation took place.

How do I donate my body to research/science?

Individuals considering whole body donation are advised to make arrangements with the medical school or research program of their choice. In most instances being an organ donor usually prevents whole body donation, but each program has different requirements. We encourage you to contact the medical school or research program you are interested in for more information.

Center for Applied Learning
Whole Body Anatomical Bequeathal Program
Wake Forest School of Medicine
Medical Center Boulevard

Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1039
(336) 716-4369
(336) 716-2011 (evenings and weekends, ask for Body Donation)
*Organ donation will not be an exclusion from acceptance into the whole body anatomical bequeathal program at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

The Duke Anatomical Gifts Program
Department of Medical Education
Box 3952
Duke University Medical Center
Durham, NC 27710
(919) 681-5471
Nancy.Cotton@duke.edu

East Carolina University
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27834
(252) 744-2843
powersj@ecu.edu

University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill School of Medicine
Body Donation Program
608 Berryhill Hall
Campus Box 7520
333 South Columbia Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
(919) 966-1137 or (919) 843-7214

Can I still be an organ donor and also donate my body to science?

If you are an organ or tissue donor, a medical school will not accept your remains for teaching purposes. However, if you are an eye donor, you may donate your body to a medical school. Some research institutions will accept your body for research after organ and tissue donation.

If you wish to make a gift of your whole body to a body donation program in North Carolina, you should make advance arrangements with a specific medical center school program. A list of programs and school-specific procedures and forms can be found on the Commission on Anatomy's website www.commissiononanatomy.ncdhhs.gov/donate.htm

How can I donate bone marrow?

While Carolina Donor Services is not directly involved with bone marrow donation, we encourage you to visit the National Marrow Donor Program website at www.marrow.org to learn more about this life-saving process, including answers to frequently asked questions, myths, how to register, and more. If you can't find what you are seeking online, you may want to contact one of the NC marrow donor offices including: Raleigh -(919) 414-8312 and Charlotte- (704) 921-3570.

How many people can be helped by tissue donation?

More than 50 people can be helped through one tissue donor.

How many lives can be saved by one organ donor?

One organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people.

Where can I buy Donate Life merchandise?

You can purchase Donate Life merchandise through the Donate Life America online store.