What Is a Heart Donor?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2018
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A heart donor is an organ donor who has died and had his or her heart transplanted to a person in need. Few organ donors become heart donors after they die. In fact, only around 3,500 hearts are transplanted worldwide because of various complications, such as the requirement of having the heart come from a very recently deceased or brain dead person. If the requirements are met, the heart is quickly transported to an eligible person on a waiting list and then transplanted. One heart donation can extend the life of another person by decades.

Even though millions of people have registered to become organ donors, there are far fewer organ donors than there are people in need of organ donations. Not everyone can become an organ donor, as a successful donation largely depends on the state of the person when he or she arrives at a hospital. People who are brought in dead can donate only their corneas and heart valves. Those who are admitted to a hospital when alive but stop breathing and cannot be resuscitated make good heart donor candidates. As these requirements are very restrictive and the heart must meet certain standards when examined by a team of surgeons, only a few thousand heart transplants are made each year.


Once the heart is at a hospital and the heart donor passes the requirements, the heart is examined. Meanwhile, the person most in need of a heart transplant and compatible with this heart is contacted and prepped for surgery. Sometimes a heart is deemed unusable during this examination, and a medical professional must call off the surgery and have the person in need put back on the waiting list.

A heart donor often donates much more than his or her heart. In most cases, a heart donor has also volunteered to donate other organs. The corneas, skin, and other organs are also removed to help other people in need. One organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people.

Most people who receive a donor heart live past one year, and around 70 percent live longer than five years. Some people have lived for decades with few restraints on what they can and cannot do due to their heart transplant. The most successful heart transplants are usually between two people of the same sex. For example, a heart donor who is female is best matched with a heart failure patient who is female. Due to the strict standards each donor heart must meet, these needs often cannot be met.



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