Donor Family Information
In the midst of darkness,
an enduring light shines strong and bright.
Our team of Donation and Family Advocates is here to support you in this difficult time. As you navigate all that lies ahead, an Advocate will be dedicated to guiding you throughout the process of honoring your loved one through the remarkable gift of organ donation. We encourage you to communicate any questions or concerns you may have so that we can answer them thoroughly.
The information provided below includes content most families find helpful. If you have any questions or concerns about something not addressed here, please reach out to your Donation and Family Advocate.
Click on the topic headings below for more information
We are here to help. Some things we can assist with while you are in the hospital:
- Keep you updated on the donation process.
- Call you if you are not present in the hospital.
- Answer any questions that you, family, or friends may have about donation.
- Provide a listening ear and support.
- Connect you with resources in the hospital and within the community.
- Assist your family and friends with saying goodbye to your loved one.
- Help manage visitors in the hospital. We can help communicate with your family and friends, and notify visitors when it is time to leave.
- Provide opportunities to honor the end of your loved one’s life.
- Helping assist with communication with the Eye and Tissue agencies and/or the funeral home.
Please let us know if there is anything we can do.
Organ donation is a rare and powerful gift.
Less than 1% of people that who in hospitals have the potential to save lives through organ donation. One donor can save up to 8 lives with the gift of organ donation, restore sight to 2 people with the gift of cornea or eye donation, and heal more than 125 people with the gift of tissue donation.
There is no cost to the family for donation.
All charges directly associated with donation will be covered by the donation agency. Medical costs incurred before death and funeral expenses remain the responsibility of the next of kin.
Funeral arrangements are not affected by donation.
Organ, eye and tissue recovery are careful surgical procedures that should not cause disfigurement to the body. An organ, eye, and tissue donor can have a memorial viewing or open casket funeral.
Donation is supported by most religions.
All major religions in the U.S. support donation for transplant, either as an expression of love for your neighbor or as a personal decision.
What is Brain Death?
Brain death is the complete and irreversible loss of function of the entire brain, including the brain stem. When a severe brain injury occurs, whether from trauma, bleeding, lack of oxygen or other causes, blood flow to the brain stops permanently and there is no chance for recovery. That is brain death.
Brain death can be confusing for families. Your loved one may appear to be in coma, may feel warm to the touch and their heart is still beating. But this is only because the ventilator (breathing machine) provides oxygen to keep the heart beating and blood flowing in the body. Without the artificial help of the ventilator, the heart would no longer beat.
To diagnose brain death, a physician performs a series of tests based on national standards, all of which indicate that there is no blood flow to the brain. Once the diagnosis of brain death is made, your loved one is pronounced legally dead. The time of this pronouncement is the official time of death, which will appear on the death certificate. A person who has been declared brain dead has the opportunity to save lives through organ donation.
What to Expect
The donation process takes approximately 1-4 days, from brain death to the time of surgical recovery of organs. After the declaration of brain death, the Cascade Life Alliance team coordinates ambulatory transport of your loved one to the Donation Recovery Center where your loved one remains on the ventilator until the surgery. Fluids, medications, nursing care, blood work and other treatments will be facilitated by the onsite staff of Cascade Life Alliance to maintain the body and support the organs. Transplantable organs will be matched with recipients and a surgery time will be scheduled. Organ recovery then takes place in the operating room.
If your loved one is a tissue or eye donor, that process begins after organ recovery. Following that, they will be transported to the funeral home of your choice, except where an autopsy or medical examiner’s decision provides otherwise.
What is Circulatory Death?
When a patient has sustained a severe brain injury from which no meaningful recovery is expected, the patient’s family may make the difficult decision to withdraw the ventilator (breathing machine). Without ventilator support, the patient stops breathing, his or her heart stops and death occurs. In that case, organ donation is available after death has been declared by a physician or their designee.
What to Expect
The donation process takes approximately 1-4 days, from authorization to the time of surgical recovery of organs. Until surgery, your loved one remains in the intensive care unit, on the ventilator. Fluids, medications, nursing care, blood work and other treatments are facilitated by the physicians and staff at the hospital. Meanwhile, the staff at Cascade Life Alliance works around the clock to evaluate suitable organs for transplant and to identify the recipients who are a match to your loved one.
When that work is complete, the care team will transport your loved one to the operating room for the ventilator to be removed. Some families choose to join their loved one in the operating room to witness the removal of the ventilator and the dying process. During this time, your family may choose music, prayers or other ways of saying goodbye. After death is declared and prior to surgery beginning, your family is escorted from the operating room. Some families choose to say their goodbyes in the hospital room instead. The choice is yours. Our staff will guide you through the entire process, one way or another.
If your loved one is a tissue or eye donor, that process begins after organ recovery. Following that, they will be transported to the funeral home of your choice, except where an autopsy or medical examiners decision provides otherwise.
Grief can affect the body in many ways.
Those who are grieving often feel:
- Afraid to be alone
- Very hyper, or restless
- Unable to cry
- Unable to stop crying
- As if they are losing their minds
- They don’t want to be around others
You may experience:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble swallowing
- Feeling sick to your stomach
- Being easily irritated by noise
- Difficulty catching your breath
- Being easily irritated by people around you
You may experience a range of emotions:
- Emotional absence
- Sense of being overwhelmed
Things to do after you leave the hospital:
- Death Certificate: Certified Death Certificates may be ordered through your funeral director or from your county’s vital records office.
- Banks: Notify the bank of the person’s death. Check for insurance on bank loans and installment contracts. Change name on banking accounts, government bonds, saving certificates. Check Safety Deposit Box.
- Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV): Request a copy of the death notice from the funeral home for each vehicle.
- Home and Real Estate Properties: Take a copy of the death certificate to the Tax Assessor’s office in the county where the property is located.
- Social Security: Your funeral home can file Form SSA-721 for you, or you can contact your local Social Security office: https://www.ssa.gov/locator
The Family Resource Program is designed to provide continuing aftercare support for donor families. Our services include follow-up phone calls, grief resources, and referrals for counseling and support groups.
- We are available to assist you and your family should you someday want to write to the recipients of your loved ones organs.
- We are available to support you and your family as needed or desired.
If you have any questions or need support, please contact our Aftercare Services Coordinator at 503-494-5560 or CLAAfterCare@ohsu.edu
Online Grief Resources
National Donor Family Council
Supports organ and tissue donor families
What’s Your Grief
A grief community led by mental health professionals with access to podcasts and resources.
The Dougy Center
The National Center for Grieving Children and their Families
American Association of Suicidology
Resources for those grieving the death of someone by suicide
Internet community for persons dealing with grief, death, and major loss
With the loss of a loved one, there are many details to attend to.
Sometimes, families will get a bill that should go to Cascade Life Alliance. We want to fix this for you as quickly as possible. If you received a bill that you think should go to us, just follow these steps:
- Contact the billing department at Cascade Life Alliance: 503‐494‐5560
- Let them know that you received a bill that you think should go to Cascade Life Alliance.
- Scan the entire bill and email it to CLABilling@ohsu.edu with the subject line “Bill in question”
Mail it to:
Cascade Life Alliance
2611 SW Third Avenue Suite 320
Portland, OR 97201
Please give us 1‐2 weeks to review the bill. Feel free to call our Family Resource Program during this time if you have any questions or concerns. If you get an explanation of benefits (EOB) from your insurance company, please follow up with them directly. We are unable to contact them on your behalf.