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North Hills Monthly

CORE Working to Raise Awareness about Organ Donation

Jan 01, 2017 02:25PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

CORE is the acronym for the Center for Organ Recovery & Education. Founded in 1977, it is one of 58 federally designated not-for-profit organ procurement organizations (OPOs) in the United States. The organization, which is dedicated to promoting donation, education and research for the purpose of saving and improving lives through organ, tissue and cornea transplantation, is headquartered in Pittsburgh and oversees a region encompassing 155 hospitals and almost 6 million people throughout western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Chemung County, NY.  Susan Stuart is its president and CEO.

North Hills Monthly (NHM): At any given time, approximately how many people are on waitlists for organs?

Susan Stuart (Stuart): Approximately 119,000 people are on the national waiting list, including more than 8,000 people in Pennsylvania.

NHM: What are the criteria for being an organ donor?

Stuart: Anyone can be a potential donor regardless of age, race, or medical history. Medical professionals determine a donor’s suitability for organ, tissue and cornea donation through a comprehensive screening process. It is important to note that donation is a possibility only after all efforts to save the patient's life have been exhausted.

NHM: What type(s) of organs and tissues can be donated after death?

Stuart: A deceased donor can give their kidneys, pancreas, liver, lungs, heart, intestinal organs, tissues and corneas.

NHM: Does the manner or cause of death determine whether or not someone’s organs can be donated?

Stuart: The opportunity for organ, tissue and cornea donation most often results from an individual sustaining an injury that causes brain death, which means the brain has stopped working and will not work again. Common causes of brain death are motor vehicle accidents, head injuries or strokes. Paramedics, nurses and doctors will continue lifesaving measures until the patient is stabilized and tests are performed. Only when a patient is pronounced brain dead will they be evaluated for donation.

NHM: Once organs or tissue is donated, what happens next?

Stuart: The donor’s information is entered into a national database and a computer matches the organs with transplant candidates in most critical need. Other donations may be used for groundbreaking medical research. If necessary, people can specify their wishes in a living will.

NHM: What percentage of people nationwide are organ donors?

Stuart: Nationally, 95 percent of adults support organ donation but only 54 percent have actually signed up. We know from past polls that more than 90 percent of Pennsylvanians say they support organ and tissue donation, but the latest numbers show that only 46 percent of Pennsylvanians are registered.

NHM: Why are so many eligible people not signing up?

Stuart: A recent survey conducted by Donate Life Pennsylvania indicated some common reasons, which include people saying that they had not thought about it or taken the time to register; they did not think that they were healthy enough to be donors or were too old; and others believed the commonly held myth that if they were organ donors, medical professionals wouldn’t try to save their lives if they were in accidents. In fact, the number one priority is to save every life.

To actually become a donor upon death, certain medical criteria must be met, with the final determination made at the time of death. First and foremost, organ donation, unlike tissue donation, requires a person to be in a hospital and on a ventilator when they are pronounced dead. Of the 2.2 million people who die each year, approximately 2 percent of them are able to be organ donors—this contributes to why the availability of organs does not meet the demand for recipients awaiting a second chance at life.

NHM: What would you say to reassure those who may be uncomfortable with the idea of organ donation?

Stuart: There are many myths associated with organ, tissue and cornea donation that may prevent people from making the pledge of life. For example, people may not know that nearly all religious groups support organ and tissue donation and transplantation as long as it does not impede the life or hasten the death of the donor. For many religions, donation is considered a final act of love and generosity toward others.

We are committed to raising awareness about organ, tissue and cornea donation, so that people make an informed decision to give the gift of life and register as organ donors, ultimately giving hope to those awaiting a life-saving transplant.

NHM: Do you do a lot of community outreach?

Stuart: CORE is very active in the community and our community outreach coordinators, volunteers and health partners attend local events to raise awareness and sign up people as organ donors.

In January, we honor donor Jasmine “Nicole” Moore who died in a tragic car accident at just 26 years old with a ‘floragraph portrait’ that is featured on the Donate Life’s Teammates in Life float in the 2017 Rose Parade®. In April, we participate in Donate Life Month by visiting hospitals and communities for flag-raising events. 

Every year, CORE holds ‘A Special Place’ ceremony for the families of donors from the previous year to allow everyone to reflect on the lives the donors lived as well as the lives of those the donors saved. The event is always well attended and a very powerful testament to the legacy of those who choose to give the gift of life.

NHM: How do you register to become an organ donor?

Stuart: People don’t have to wait until they renew their drivers’ licenses. They can register any time online; it is a quick process that takes less than a minute but could mean a lifetime to someone in need. You can register as an organ, tissue and cornea donor at