Tissue donation – information for health care professionals

What is tissue donation?

Tissue donation is the process where specific tissues are removed from the body of a deceased person and transplanted to recipients to improve their quality of life. In some cases, such as heart valves, tissues can actually save the recipient’s life.

In Western Australia, tissues that can be donated include:

  • eyes – corneas and sclera
  • bone, tendons and ligaments
  • heart valves.

Tissue banks are governed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which regulates procurement, storage and testing of the tissue prior to transplantation. The tissue banks have guidelines for donation which may exclude some people, for safety reasons.

Referral process

Donor coordinators, who work for DonateLife (WA organ and tissue donation agency), are notified of all deaths in public and some private hospitals, and those under coronial jurisdiction. If the death is under coronial investigation, the donor coordinator must obtain consent for donation from a coronial representative.

To assist with screening and prior to any converation with a family, the donor coordinator may contact health professionals involved in caring for the deceased and request information. This will include cause of death, circumstances around the death, past medical history and whether coronial jurisdiction applies.

As DonateLife is an agency for the Department of Health, donor coordinators are permitted access to this information and routinely review medical notes and laboratory results.

To confirm the donor coordinator’s identity, please page the on-call donor coordinator via the switchboard at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital: 08 9346 3333.

Consent process

The donor coordinator is the only authorised person who can access the Australian Organ Donor Register (AODR), in order to determine if the deceased has recorded wishes in relation to tissue donation.

Families are asked to complete a medical and social history questionnaire with the donor coordinator. At this time families are encouraged to ask questions and the donation process is explained. Every family is supported and respected whether they decide to proceed with donation or not.

After family consent and before retrieval it is a legal requirement that the hospital’s designated or delegated officer authorises the removal of the tissue.

Retrieval process

It is not necessary for a potential tissue donor to have died in hospital. It is however important that the donation takes place as soon as possible after death.

Time constraints have been set in place by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. The deceased must be admitted to a mortuary within 12 hours of death, and tissue retrieved with the specific time:

  • corneas – within 12-24 hours
  • long bones and associated tissue – within 24 hours
  • heart valves – within 24 hours.

All tissue retrievals occur prior to any post-mortem examination.

Following donation, the donor’s appearance is restored with the use of prosthetic implants. There is no impact on the family’s funeral plans.

After retrieval, the tissue is processed by the relevant tissue bank. Corneas are implanted within one month, whereas heart valves, bones and tendons may be stored for up to five years, awaiting transplant.

Donor family support

All families of tissue donors receive comprehensive follow-up care, which includes information regarding the outcomes of the donation. DonateLife has a donor family support coordinator, who offers confidential counselling options related to grief and bereavement. Family members are given a commemorative lapel pin specially designed for the families of organ and tissue donors, in recognition of their family member’s donation. They are also invited to an annual remembrance ceremony.

There is also support and communication with the organ and tissue donation agency for as long as the donor family feels appropriate.

Download this information in a brochure format (PDF 1.6MB)

More information

For any questions on tissue donation in general or regarding a specific patient, please ring Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital switchboard on 9346 3333 and ask for the on-call donor coordinator. Coordinators are available 24 hours, seven days a week.

  • PlusLife
    Perth Orthopaedic Clinic
    PO Box 1125, Nedlands WA 6909
    Telephone: 9386 9300

  • Cell and Tissue Therapies WA Royal Perth Hospital Heart Valve Bank
    Cell and Tissue Therapies WA
    Royal Perth Hospital
    Wellington Street, Perth WA 6000
    Telephone: 9224 3124
Produced by

DonateLife WA