What are the 7 types of tissues that can be donated?

Published August 26, 2021 in Blog

Each year, approximately 58,000 tissue donors nationwide provide lifesaving and healing tissue for transplant. Given more than 75 lives can be saved from one tissue donor, that’s an incredible number of lives affected by the generosity of donors.


The impact tissue donation can have can be surprising. Behind each and every number is a story. Take Julie De Rossi. She had never played football in her life but her gifts helped quarterback Carson Palmer go on to play 98 NFL games. Or the police officer who was able to return to duty after receiving the gift of tissue donation from a 10-year-old boy named Garrett. The gift of tissue donation can provide an impactful and lasting legacy.


When you register as an organ, eye and tissue donor, you’re joining the majority of Americans who pledge to leave a legacy of love and healing. The list of organs and tissues that can be successfully transplanted is growing thanks to technological advances. Right now there are seven types of tissues that can be transplanted to 75 or more recipients after death.


Types of tissues that can be donated

Roughly 2.5 million tissue transplants are performed each year, saving and healing lives from a number of life-threatening medical conditions, including patients with severe burn injuries, torn ligaments or tendons, or repairing structures such as skin and spinal components. One donor can give the gift of life and help recipients regain strength, restore hope and fully heal. The human tissues that can be donated and used in many surgical applications include corneas, tendons, heart valves, veins, skin, musculoskeletal tissue, and nerves.

  • Corneas: Damaged corneas can result from eye disease, injury or birth defects. More than 97% of all corneal transplants restore the receiving patient’s vision. And one cornea donor can restore sight for up to two people. Passing on the gift of sight is a remarkable legacy to leave.
  • Tendons: Tendons and ligaments play an important role in connecting muscles to bones. Torn ligaments or tendons can result in the inability to move. Donated tendon tissue can help rebuild joints for the recipient.
  • Heart valves: If a heart valve does not open fully it can obstruct or restrict the flow of blood, causing heart disease. Donated heart valve tissue is used to repair cardiac defects.  
  • Veins: Veins are a type of blood vessel that return deoxygenated blood from your organs back to your heart. When a tissue donor donates veins to a recipient, the vein tissue is used to re-establish necessary circulation.
  • Skin: The gift of skin is able to serve as a temporary wound dressing for burn victims until the person’s own skin can heal or for skin grafts.
  • Musculoskeletal Tissues: Donated musculoskeletal tissue can be grafted to replace bone that has been lost because of cancer or through other disease or accidents. It’s also used to prevent the need for amputation.
  • Nerves: Nerve transplants are used to replace or bridge an injured portion of another nerve.  By bridging a gap in an injured nerve, this allows time for the patient’s own nerve to regenerate and restore feeling.  


How tissue donation differs from organ donation

The phrase “organ donation” is sometimes meant to be all encompassing to mean organ, eye and tissue donation. However, on the medical side, there are several differences between organ and tissue donation. Tissues do not require the same conditions as organs to survive, which means tissue donation is possible after the heart and lungs have stopped working. And the donor does not need to be placed on a ventilator. Tissues for donation must be removed within 24 hours of a person’s death. Unlike organs, donated tissues can be stored for an extended period of time. And the good news is most people can be potential tissue donors at the time of death. 


Why you should consider tissue donation

Every year, tissue transplants provide lifesaving and healing hope to tens of thousands of people suffering from disease, injury, trauma or blindness. Individuals who were once burdened by laborious and expensive routine medical treatments can enjoy a dramatically improved quality of life. And since most people can be a tissue donor, it’s a lifesaving gift to consider registering for tissue donation. Passing on the gift of life and being someone’s hero is as easy as registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor.


By registering as a donor, you can bring hope to patients and families who are holding out for a miracle.  Patients like Tasha, who was burned severely in an accident and was facing permanent loss of the use of her right arm.  Thanks to the generous gift of tissue, Tasha has regained the use of her arm and is able to return to work as a paramedic. Sign up for the donor registry and increase the chance that patients waiting will get the transplants they need to heal and survive.