What comes to mind when you hear about organ donation? Is it the sticker on a license or ID card? Is it a person receiving a transplant? Maybe the topic raises questions about how organ donation works, and how people become donors of organs, tissues, bones, and/or their entire body.

Organ transplants include kidney, liver, pancreas, heart, lung, and intestines. Assuming all organs are viable, an organ donor can help as many as eight people; a tissue donor can potentially help 50 people in need. In 2021, the longest waitlists were for kidneys and livers, with some people on the transplant list for up to five years. More than 100,000 people in the United States are currently on the kidney transplant list.

People may choose to become organ donors because they see the benefit of helping a person in need. Though upon death, it may come as a surprise to family members if they were not aware of their loved one’s organ donor status. If you are a donor or are considering registering as an organ donor, it might be beneficial to speak with your loved ones about your choice so that there are no surprises later.

When a person is added to the national transplant waiting list, they are placed in a pool of names, and when an organ becomes available, the donor is compared to those on the waiting list and matched. Medical urgency, time spent on the list, organ size, blood type, and genetic makeup are considered when trying to find a match.

One question people ask is if a wake and burial service are still possible if they choose organ donation. Regardless of what a person chooses to donate after their death, it does not interfere with their ability to have a wake or burial service. Those who donate organs or tissue after they pass away can still have an open casket gathering as all evidence of surgery would be closed and covered by the surgeon and mortician. However, burial services could need to be moved or timed based on the needs of the donation process.

In Wisconsin, you can become an organ donor by checking the box at the DMV when registering for an ID or renewing your license. You can also choose to remove yourself from the donor list this way. You can register as an organ donor through the Health Resources and Services Administration at organdonor.gov.

If you choose to preplan your funeral arrangements, let the funeral home know if you are a donor, so they can help prepare the timeline for services. You can fill out your preplanning form here to make your wishes known in advance.