When a Loved One Dies

"Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm,and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim".

Vicki Harrison

Whether sudden or expected, facing the death of a loved one is overwhelming. You are probably experiencing a variety of emotions, ranging from anger and despair to disbelief, shock and numbness. Along with these emotions, you have many decisions that must be made at a time when you feel you are least prepared to make them.

Although sometimes the decisions that must be made are trivial in comparison to what you are feeling, they are, nevertheless, important.

One such decision is the freedom to decide in favour of tissuedonation.The need for tissue transplantation is great yet impossible toovercome without people who, despite the pain and absolute finalityof death, still decide to help others in need.

The decision to donate the tissue of a loved one who has died isexceptionally difficult for some people. In many cases, people simply havenever thought about the opportunity to help improve or save the life ofanother individual, nor discussed it with the person who is now gone.

There are so many myths surrounding the donation and retrieval process.Some people might think it is against their religion or worry that theprocedure is disfiguring. Others wonder about the cost involved, or whowill benefit from their loved one's donation. Still others think theirloved one was too young, too old, or too sick to be a donor. Thinking aboutthe following questions help you and your family reach an agreement aboutdonation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is tissue donation?

Tissue donation is the process in which the deceased individual (donor) donates parts of their body for use in transplants into living individuals (recipients) to repair a defect or injury, to restore mobility, to restore sight or to save a life.

Why should I donate?

People donate for many different reasons. For some, donation is a way of turning a senseless tragedy into something meaningful, helping others by improving or saving someone's life, and lessening their grief. Other people consider tissue donation a practical matter and make their decision in an unemotional way. If you are struggling with the issue of donating, think about what kind of person your loved one was. Would he or she help someone if given the chance?

What can be donated at this time?
  • Corneas
    The thin, clear tissue layer that covers the iris and pupil can be carefully removed and used in transplantation to give or restore sight to a blind or severely impaired person.
  • Bone & Tendons
    The long bones in the limbs (arms & legs) can surgically be removed and used for transplantation in patients who have suffered bone loss due to trauma, injury or disease and can provide new ability and quality of life.
  • Heart Valves
    Sometimes only natural valves can be used to correct a dysfunction in the heart of a patient and will not only improve, but save his or her life.
  • Skin
    Only the very top layer of skin (epidermis) is carefully removed in some areas of the body and is used very efficiently in the treatment and transplantation of burn victims.
Why would some people need tissue transplants?

Tissue transplants are needed in both adults and children for a number of reasons, including:-

  • Corneas
    Blindness, eye trauma, disease and infection
  • Bone and Tendons
    Bone cancer, trauma, joint surgery or correction of spinal deformities in adolescents
  • Heart valves
    Valve disease, infection and genetic defects
  • Skin
    To treat severe burns, unhealed wounds and injuries resulting in large skin loss

You may choose to donate only one or even all of the above tissues.

Is there a time limit after death in which the tissue must berecovered?

Yes , depending on the type of tissue - for example, the optimal recovery time limit after death for cornea is 12 hours, but in the case of bone tissue, the time limit is much longer and can still be recovered successfully up to 5 days after death.

Where is the tissue retrieval done?

A specially trained team conducts the procedure in either the hospital, the local mortuary or at the funeral home of your choice. Through the entire donation process the donor's body is treated with utmost care and respect.

Will my loved one be treated with dignity?

Yes , they will. The tissue procurement is no different from any other surgical operation, and is performed by qualified health professionals, who are bound by a strict code of conduct, and adhere to protocols. This ensures that every donor's body is treated with both dignity and respect. Written consent is required for all tissue retrieval. Donation does not alter the physical appearance of the donor's body, nor does it prevent the donor's family from having a normal viewing or open casket.

Is there a charge for donating tissue?

No , the cost of the procedure is paid for by the relevant Tissue Bank.

Will the donor family pay or receive any fees for donation?

No. It is prohibited by law to pay a donor family for donated tissues or organs, as this may be perceived as a form of coercion. Donor families will not be expected to pay to donate tissue, nor should they be affected financially by doing so. Any costs associated with tissue donation are absorbed by the Tissue Bank.

Will my loved one be treated with dignity?

Yes , they will. The tissue procurement is no different from any other surgical operation, and is performed by qualified health professionals, who are bound by a strict code of conduct, and adhere to protocols. This ensures that every donor's body is treated with both dignity and respect. Written consent is required for all tissue retrieval. Donation does not alter the physical appearance of the donor's body, nor does it prevent the donor's family from having a normal viewing or open casket.

Will donation delay the funeral?

No. The Tissue Bank, in collaboration with the funeral home, will work according to the confines of the time limits you set. Funeral arrangements can continue as planned following donation.

Will I know who receives my loved one's tissue?

No. For privacy and legislative reasons, donors and recipients are not identified.

Will tissue transplant recipients pay for their donated tissue?

Yes. A standard nominal fee is levied for each of the respective tissues in order to cover costs associated with the recovery, procurement and processing of tissue.

What happens after we decide to donate?

You will be asked to complete and sign the necessary consent form. The Tissue Bank will then make the relevant arrangements to perform the tissue retrieval as soon as possible.

Who can I contact for urgent assistance?

Please contact one of our trained coordinators in your area to assist you:

You will be asked to provide the following details:

  • Name of your loved one
  • Cause of death
  • Time of death
  • Age of your loved one
  • Is your loved one at a hospital or at a mortuary or undertaker?
  • The city or town where your loved one is situated
  • Your name, contact number and relation to the deceased

Alternatively, you may contact the Organ Donor Foundation on:

Toll Free Number: 0800 22 66 11
Emergency/After Hours: 082 318 4376
Website: www.odf.org.za

The Organ Donor Foundation representative will pass on the information provided to the nearest Transplant Centre or Tissue Bank.