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117 How long can donor organs last on life support?




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This article is from the Organ Transplant FAQ, by mike_holloway@hotmail.com (Michael Holloway) with numerous contributions by others.

117 How long can donor organs last on life support?

Question:
How long could a person's organs last on life support until the
organs are deemed unusable?

Answer:
Like so many other things in the transplantation realm, the answer is "it
depends."

Because there are many variables in the management of the brain-injured
patient, it is impossible to give an estimate of how long organs could
last from the time brain death is declared (which is the time after which
it is acceptable to approach a family about organ donation and recovery
of those organs) until the time that the organs are actually removed from
the body.

One question is: when does brain death occur? The outward clinical signs
are not always very obvious. For purposes of brain death declaration,
brain death is said to have occurred when 1) the respiratory system has
stopped working; 2) the cranial nerves are no longer responsive; and/or
3) the brain's blood supply has been interrupted. While we can test for
the absence of all of these, we generally cannot overtly witness the
cessation of reflexes or blood flow. The bottom line is that patients are
often PRONOUNCED brain dead hours or even days after brain death has
actually occurred, simply because no one tests for it or because multiple
tests separated by some time period are required.

Another variable: how well has the patient been maintained? Sometimes,
medical staff will not treat brain-injured patients very aggressively, and
the patients will suffer organ damage. This will lessen the amount of time
available to recover the organs.

SO...the final answer is: it still depends. It can be anywhere from a few
minutes to several days. It depends on how well maintained the donor is
and how quickly brain death is identified and declared.

Hope this answers your question.

P.J. Geraghty, Procurement Coordinator, Washington Regional Transplant
Consortium
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