Skip to main content
Home » Transplants » The Complex Road to an Organ Transplant

The Complex Road to an Organ Transplant

With more than 100,000 people in the United States waiting for an organ, do you ever wonder how a patient receives an organ transplant?


Meet Nia. Nia works at an organ procurement organization (OPO), one of 57 non-profit, federally designated entities responsible for facilitating the organ donation process across the country. Nia is a donation coordinator and a steward of the gift of life.

Late one night, while Nia is on call, she receives notification from a local hospital that a patient was admitted who had suffered a severe head injury. After all lifesaving efforts had been attempted, the person was put on a ventilator. 

See how Atrium Health is giving kids unique and exemplary care that gives kids the chance to just be kids.

Nia goes to the hospital immediately to speak with the medical team and evaluate the patient. After clinical testing, Nia and the patient’s physicians determine that the patient is brain dead and is medically eligible for organ, eye, and tissue donation.

The donation process

Before she proceeds, Nia checks the national organ donor registry and verifies that the patient is listed as a registered organ donor. She then works with the OPO’s donor family services team to speak with the family about next steps to honor their loved one’s decision to become an organ donor. Nia and her team will continue to provide support to the grieving family throughout the entire donation process, even after donation takes place.


To find a recipient match, Nia enters the donor’s blood type, height, weight, and other medical data into the national transplant waitlist system to begin the organ matching process. A list of the best recipient matches appears based on medical urgency, time on the waiting list, and geographic location.

Nia sends organ offers to the transplant surgeons with the top recipient candidates, and once a transplant program accepts the donation opportunity, the surgical team and OPO staff work together to recover the organ(s) and tissue for donation. Nia ensures the organs are safely packaged and oversees their transport to the hospital where the transplant will take place.

See what makes the care at Atrium Health so unique and effective.

A priceless gift

Donation occurs, and the organs are transplanted into the recipient or recipients, giving them a second chance at life. One donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and heal up to 75 more people through tissue donation. Dedicated OPO workers, such as Nia, make life happen 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They are the vital link between donors and recipients and work tirelessly with hospitals and transplant centers to ensure every donation opportunity results in lives saved.  

Last year alone, deceased organ donation saved more than 33,000 lives in the United States. That’s thousands of lives impacted by the gift of donation and world-leading rates of transplantation. You can do your part by registering as an organ donor at and sharing your decision with your loved ones.


To learn more about the caring work of OPOs, go to

Next article