Even If You've Signed Up To Donate Your Organs, Here Are All The Things That Could Go Wrong

Most people think donating organs is as simple as checking a box at the DMV. For others, it's just filling out paperwork to give their body to science or volunteering to provide an organ to someone facing the end. Like most things in life, however, it's not that simple. In fact, there can be a number of unforeseen obstacles to organ donation.

Although not as frightening as the world of body brokering, doctors and hospitals can make mistakes when it comes to organ transplants, even if they have the best intentions. There's much more that goes into organ transplants that finding a physiological match - additional criteria often gets in the way. From BMI to hidden insurance costs, there are a number of different factors to take into consideration before you give or receive an organ.


  • Medical Mistakes Could Match Incompatible Donors To Recipients

    A teenager was set to receive lung and heart transplants in 2003. Doctors at Duke University Hospital mistakenly transplanted donor organs with a blood type incompatible to that of the recipient. Once they realized what they had done, they attempted to remove the organs and insert compatible ones, but the patient passed.

    Another patient in Dallas, TX, only a year old, received a liver from a donor with the wrong blood type. When doctors attempted to correct the mistake, the child perished in surgery.

  • You Could Mistakenly Receive A Bad Organ From An Unfit Donor

    In 2013, the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff transplanted the kidneys of a deceased organ donor into two recipients. The transplant recipients, Robert Stuart and Darren Hughes, later passed because the kidneys were infested with parasitic worms.

    The donor was an alcoholic who perished from a viral infection, but the hospital did not conduct an autopsy on his body. The donor had been deemed unfit for donation by multiple hospitals before UHW harvested the kidneys for transplant.

  • After Donation, Your Could Have Debilitating Complications That Go Unresolved

    Donor Kimberly Tracy suffered months of vomiting, abdominal cramps, and pelvic pain after donating a kidney to her nephew. Doctors could not provide a medical explanation for her illness.

    In 2010, Jeff Moyer donated a kidney. In 2012, NPR reported that following the surgery, Moyer suffered from pain that afflicted him daily, interfering with his ability to work and maintain relationships. However, doctors insist nothing is medically wrong with Moyer.

    Another kidney donor, Michelle Glasgow, lost 45 pounds in five months because the post-surgical pain was so bad she couldn't eat. 

  • Being Overweight Can Affect Even A Healthy Person's Ability To Donate Organs

    Ed Guillen made a decision to donate a kidney to his ill mother when her organs went into failure. After alerting the hospital of his intentions, doctors informed Guillen that his body mass index (BMI) was too high for the process to continue.

    Guillen, and many other Americans like him, find themselves unable to donate their organs because of increased rates of obesity. Since a kidney was the organ being donated, Guillen's doctors were concerned that he would develop kidney failure, as being overweight increases that risk.

    Other organs, such as the liver, are generally not taken from overweight donors because of the increased risk of fatty liver disease.

  • An Organ Recipient's Insurance May Refuse To Cover Hidden Costs

    Maybe the recipient's insurance has agreed to cover the surgeries for both parties, the pre-testing, and the post-operative care. Perhaps the insurance pays the donor while they recover and live near the transplant hospital.

    However, if doctors found undiagnosed conditions during pre-donation testing, taking care of them is probably not covered by the recipient's insurance. Those issues would need to be treated before donation could take place, dropping the costs in the lap of the donor and their health insurance.

    The recipient's insurance typically doesn't cover any follow-up visits the donor may require after the hospital discharges them. Those are also the responsibility of the donor and their health insurance provider.

  • Your Insurance May Cover A New Organ, But Not Post-Operation Medication

    So the recipient received their organ and is happily back home. Their health insurance paid for almost everything and they are ready to get their life back on track and stay healthy. However, those who receive organ donations require medications that prevent the body from rejecting the organ, and some insurance companies stop covering the medication after three years.

    Medicare pays for the transplants, the dialysis, or other treatments that precede it, and, for a limited amount of time, medication to keep a new organ healthy. After that, the cost, which can be up to $600 or more per month, is the responsibility of the patient. It leads many patients to stop taking the medication, and thus their body rejects the organ, landing them back at square one.