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How Do I Find a Donor?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated Feb 08, 2024
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Patients trying to find a donor for bone marrow, cord blood, organs, sperm, or eggs might turn to relatives for a match or national registries that match anonymous donors with patients. Doctors and transplant centers typically coordinate medical procedures involving anonymous donors. If patients want to find an anonymous sperm or egg donor, the task is commonly handled by a fertility center. They might also approach family or friends to donate sperm or eggs. A controversial method of organ donation centers on Web sites matching living donors with recipients hoping to find a willing donor.

Organ and bone marrow registries represent the standard avenue to find a donor in most industrialized countries. These registries test anonymous donors for human leukocyte antigens (HLA) that could match patients needing a bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, or platelet transplant. If the genetic markers match, these registries coordinate the transplantation process.

Some patients seek family members when trying to find a donor for this type of transplant. Human leukocyte antigens are inherited, which often makes siblings ideal matches. Tests might be performed to determine if a relative’s DNA represents a perfect or partial match for the patient. Partial HLA matches pose more complications, but can be acceptable in critical situations.

Patients seeking an organ donation might be helped through living donors or people who agree to donate healthy organs or tissue when they die. Some areas allow donors to designate their preference on driver’s licenses. A transplant might involve a kidney, pancreas, lung, heart, cornea, or intestine. Historically, patients hoping to get a donor far outweigh the number of organs available, which generally means years waiting on a list.

The popularity and reach of the Internet addresses this shortage through sites where donors and recipients meet and communicate online, helping to remove the anonymous nature of organ donations. Recipients usually pay a one-time or monthly fee to tell their stories on these sites, but organ donors typically access the site without charge. Some of these sites are operated on a nonprofit basis.

Opponents of this increasingly popular method of finding a donor fear it might lead to selling organs, which is illegal. They also point to ethical concerns about racial or religious discrimination that might occur. Some bioethicists say these sites reduce organ transplant to a popularity contest where the person with the best story, or more attractive photo, receives priority status.

Proponents counter by waiving the cost for patients who cannot afford monthly fees in order to allow access to all patients who need transplants. Organizations operating these match sites also commonly screen donors to prevent offers to sell organs. Recipients typically pay a donor’s medical, travel, and related costs for the organ transplant.

Some patients have also turned to social networking to tell their story in hopes of finding a donor. Others appeal to churches and community organizations in their quest. Some patients place newspaper ads or rent space on billboards to get their message out to the public.

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