I Want To Be A Donor

Find out everything you need to know about becoming a tissue donor or donating a deceased loved one’s tissue

Which tissues can be transplanted in South Africa?

Cornea and scleral tissue, bone, tendons, heart valves and skin can all be recovered after death and used for transplantation.

Which organs can be transplanted in South Africa?

Heart, lung(s), liver, kidney and pancreas are recovered from brain-stem dead, heart-beating donors.

Who can be a tissue donor?

Any healthy individual between the ages of 15 and 80 years can donate bone, heart vales and skin. If you have a medical history which includes cancer, septicemia (the clinical name for blood poisoning), hepatitis or HIV/Aids, you are not eligible to be a tissue donor.

For cornea donation, any person between the ages of 6 and 65 years (and even up to 70 years in certain cases), where death is as a result of either natural causes – such as heart diseases, most cancers or strokes – or unnatural circumstances like motor vehicle accident injuries, gunshot wounds, or stab wounds can become a cornea donor.

Cataracts and poor eyesight do not prevent eye donation, however, previous laser surgery to the eye and infections such as tuberculosis and HIV/Aids; as well as lymphoma and leukemia does.

Can I change my mind about donating?

Yes. You may change your mind at any time.

If you registered as and organ and tissue donor, and wish to withdraw your registration, please contact the Organ Donor Foundation and ask them to remove your details from the National Donor Registry. It is also important to tell your loved ones about your decision.

If you intended to donate a deceased loved one’s tissue, you can withdraw consent for donation up to the point of tissue recovery. Simply call one of our donor coordinators and tell us that you no longer wish to proceed with the donation.

How long after death can tissue be recovered?

Corneas & scleral tissue need to be recovered within 12 hours of death and transplanted within 10 days of recovery.

Cornea & Scleral Tissue Donation

How To Give The Gift Of Sight

What is the cornea?

The cornea is the eye’s outermost layer. It is the thin, transparent dome-shaped surface of the eye that covers the iris (coloured part of the eye), pupil and anterior chamber. The cornea forms the protective covering of the eye and focuses most of the incoming light.

What is scleral tissue?

Scleral tissue is the dense connective tissue of the eyeball that forms the ‘white’ of the eye. Scleral tissue can be recovered if a whole eye and not just a cornea is donated.

How do we see?

When light first enters the eye it is bent (refracted) by the cornea. It then becomes focused by the lens, before being projected onto the retina where the stimulation is interpreted by the brain as a visual picture or image.
The cornea is the eye’s outermost lens and focuses light onto a light-sensitive membrane called the retina, just as a camera lens focuses light onto film.

How does a cornea become damaged or cloudy?

The cornea may become damaged or cloudy through disease, degeneration, infection or injury. This scarring or discolouration causes impaired vision by blocking or distorting light as it enters the eye. Vision becomes dramatically reduced, and in some cases, blindness may result. Severe damage to the cornea also impairs the protection of the eye from the drying environment and against infection.

What is a cornea transplant?

It is a microscopic surgical procedure during which all or part of a damaged (injured or diseased) cornea is removed and replaced with healthy donor corneal tissue. Also known as keratoplasty or a corneal graft.

be done to ensure the tissue is safe for transplantation.

How is scleral tissue used?

Scleral tissue is used for ocular graft surgery in the treatment of cancer.

for donation, and certain blood tests will

Who needs a corneal transplant?

Adults, and children (even babies) may need cornea transplants, for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • cornea failure due to hereditary conditions such as keratoconus (a thinning or steep curving of the cornea) or Fuchs’ dystrophy (where the cornea swell and thickens due to fluid build-up.
  • scarring of the cornea due to trauma or injury; ulceration (a painful sore on the cornea); or previous eye surgery
  • age affecting the clarity and health of the cornea

The need for donated corneas in South Africa increases every year and there is a constant shortage of donors.  This means that hundreds of people who are unable to live productive lives due to poor sight or blindness are waiting for the gift of tissue donation. 

How are corneas and scleral tissue recovered?

It takes about 30 minutes to recover donated corneal and eye tissue and to preserve the donor’s appearance. Recovery is done by qualified recovery technicians.

Arrangements for this tissue recovery do not compromise funeral arrangements and corneas can be recovered in hospital, at the funeral home or mortuary. Normally the recovery technician will make the arrangements with the recovery site.

A thorough medical history is required to evaluate whether the corneas are suitable

Bone, Tendons & Cartilage

What Is Bone Donation?

What is bone donation?

Bone is the second most commonly used donated tissue, second only to blood transfusions. The need for donated bone increases constantly.

Bone is donated after death, but in certain instances living donors can donate bone.

Find out more about Living Bone Donation.

How is bone, tendons and cartilage recovered?

The long bones in the arms and legs, tendons and cartilage are surgically removed by a qualified recovery technician after death. Prostheses are used to reconstruct the limbs and the body is treated with dignity during recovery.

What is it used for?

Bone is implanted or transplanted into patients who have suffered bone loss through diseases such as cancer or arthritis, trauma, injury or joint replacement surgery. Bone implants or transplants – called allografts – can:

  • assist with fracture healing
  • repair or improve mobility
  • decrease pain
  • prevent amputation for patients with bone cancer
  • reduce or repair bone loss and create stabilisation in areas affected by knee and hip surgery
  • be used to reconstruct facial and limb defects,  as well as spinal deformities

Cartilage is often used for facial and other post-traumatic injury reconstruction.

Tendons are used to rebuild damaged joints.

Allograft is widely used by orthopaedic, spinal, neuro, reconstructive and maxillofacial surgeons.

While not necessarily life-saving, bone, tendon and cartilage donation is life-enhancing.

Skin Donation

Skin Donation Saves Lives

Our skin - a SUPERHERO!

Besides being the largest organ in the body, our skin serves as a protective shield to protect our bodies against germs and harmful environmental effects, while maintaining a healthy hydrated state through retaining moisture.

It also regulates our body temperature and allows us to feel sensations such as touch, warmth, cold and pain.

How is donated skin used?

Donated skin is used as skin grafts to treat patients with severe burn wounds. Skin, used as a ‘biological bandage’, is applied on burnt areas. This gives the patient immediate wound cover to prevent infection and loss of moisture.

Saving lives with skin.

Treating burn wounds with donated skin is medically recognised as the most effective way to minimise scarring and promote healing of severe burns.

Heart Valve Donation

Making Hearts Beat Better

What is heart valve donation?

Heart valves (both pulmonary and aortic) can be recovered from the heart after death and used to replace or repair poorly functioning heart valves in babies, young children and adults.

Why do heart valves need to be replaced?

Babies are often born with genetic (or congenital) valve defects. In older children and adults, illness can damage heart valves, causing reduced heart valve function which seriously impact the performance of the heart.

Untreated, heart valve defects lead to compromised heart function, vastly reduced quality of life and often results in chronic disability and death.

Human heart valves - the best option.

Heart valves made from synthetic material and animal tissue are used in heart valve repair surgeries due a constant shortage of donated human hearts.

While these options are effective, human heart valves are preferable because:

  • there is less risk of rejection, 
  • the heart valves are more resistant to infection, and
  • patients do not have to use blood thinning medication constantly.  This is especially important for women of childbearing age and children.

Human heart valves, also known as  ‘homografts’ are increasingly needed and used for heart valve repair.