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Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) represent a unique component of health care. By federal law, they are the only organizations that can perform the life-saving mission of recovering organs from deceased donors for transplantation.

When the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA) was signed into law in 1984 it created the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) for matching donor organs to waiting recipients. The OPTN both standardized the process through which organs are donated and shared across the country and created the system of federally-designated Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) throughout the United States and its territories. The OPTN includes all OPOs and transplant centers and is managed under contract by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) located in Richmond, Virginia.

All OPOs are regulated by multiple government agencies and adhere to the highest medical and ethical standards. Through collaboration and distribution of proven practices, OPOs excel in the health care industry. OPOs utilize the newest scientific technology to facilitate medical advancements that place Hope Within Reach for the tens of thousands of Americans waiting for a life-saving organ transplant.

Organ procurement organizations are structured to include services such as donor family support, clinical management of organ donors, and professional and public education. Each serves an integral role in the donation process and bring Hope Within Reach to the transplant candidates in their communities.

Donor families deserve compassionate support as their loved one gives the gift of life. OPOs are dedicated to serving these precious families and providing resources and information to help them on their grief journey. Many OPOs hold annual remembrance events for donor families, offer the opportunity to submit a quilt square or remembrance item, or simply make their staff available to listen and support them throughout and after the grief process.

OPOs are also a vital part of connecting donor families and recipients through letters and, sometimes, direct contact. Often, recipients want to thank their donor’s family for the generous gift they received. Donor families may want to learn about the people their loved one was able to help. The transplant center and the OPO work together to facilitate this communication so that each party has the opportunity to connect with the other while maintaining confidentiality.

Saving lives through organ and tissue donation and transplantation is a 24 hour, seven day-per week responsibility. On average, 69 organs are transplanted in the United States every day. As the stewards of the precious gifts of donation, OPOs make these transplants and life-enhancing opportunities through research, education and therapy possible. OPOs have clinical staff available at all times to work with families and hospitals to honor the donation decisions of patients.

Clinical services for organ donation include the compassionate and professional individuals whose job it is to support the donor’s family at the time of their loved one’s generous donation. They also manage the clinical aspects of the process, such as working with the hospital staff to maintain the donor’s organ function, coordinating with UNOS to impartially match the donor’s organs with waiting recipients, and coordinating the organ recovery surgery.

If an OPO manages tissue donation in their area, their clinical services will also include highly-trained specialists who recover tissue for transplantation. Recovered tissue is sent to the OPO’s tissue partners who respectfully prepare the grafts to be returned to the community for life-saving and healing surgeries. When transplantation is not an option for medical reasons, the OPO must provide families the opportunity for recovered organs and tissues to be given for research, education or therapy, all of which benefit the community by helping find cures for diseases that result in the need for transplantation.

Organ procurement organizations rely on the strong partnership of hospitals and transplant centers to facilitate the generous gifts of organ and tissue donation. Hospital services, also commonly referred to as hospital development, involve a team of individuals who act as a liaison to the hospitals in the OPO’s service area. These passionate individuals work collaboratively with the healthcare team to provide education about donation and transplantation; develop appropriate communication plans; support families; and help maximize the gifts of donation and transplantation.

OPOs also provide education and training to hospital personnel. Programs are specifically tailored according to each employee’s role within the donation process. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) periodically publishes hospital “change packages” to help hospitals make organ donation a priority. Previous “change packages” have centered on optimization of transplant programs, management of best practices, change concepts and actions for donor hospitals, strategies to achieve joint accountability, and improvement models. To learn more about these government initiatives, please visit HRSA.

OPOs also have liaisons who work closely with medical examiners, coroners and funeral directors throughout the referral and evaluation process. These joint efforts can expand the donation options for potential donors and donor families, while preserving evidence for death investigations to determine the cause and manner of death. OPOs are also highly committed to serving the families of donors and work collaboratively with funeral directors to help meet the needs of each family.

The gifts of organ and tissue donation are only possible through the generosity of others. Organ procurement organizations provide public education about donation to help individuals make an informed donation decision and increase the number of people who decide to give this precious gift or whose families honor them by making the decision after death.

Public education efforts often include youth education through high school and driver’s education programs, partnerships with driver’s license bureaus, workplaces, faith-based outreach, media relations and a wide variety of community events. The goal is the same at all OPOs – to encourage the people in the communities they serve to legally register as a donor and share the gift of life.

Many OPOs also facilitate the gift of tissue donation and research. Tissue donation includes donated grafts such as skin, bone and heart valves to heal and restore the quality of life for recipients. OPOs facilitate research to help advance the science of donation and transplantation, with the ultimate goal to transplant more patients in need.