Donor Family Services

Donor Family and Recipient Communication

Frequently, donor families may wonder, “How are the recipients of my loved one’s organs doing?” This question is one of the reasons why we encourage transplant recipients and donor families to write to each other through the Life Alliance Donor Family Services Program.

Communicating with the transplant recipients may help donor families in their grief. In addition, many transplants recipients feel guilty about celebrating their gifts of life when at the same time their donor family is grieving the loss of a loved one. Receiving a letter from the donor family may relieve this guilt and lets them know that the family is interested in hearing from them.

Overall, donor families and recipients, as well as their relatives and friends, may benefit from exchanging thoughts and emotions about their experiences with donation…the gift of life. Helping donor families and transplant recipients communicate is one of the key functions of the Donor Family Services Program as it can promote healing for all those involved.

It may take months and even years before someone is ready to send and/or receive correspondence, or you may never hear from them.

A transplant is a major surgical procedure and it may take many months before the person feels healthy again. In addition, although recipients may feel very happy to receive the correspondence, some may feel overwhelmed and find it difficult to express their gratitude. Transplant recipients often feel “survivor’s guilt” and they are not able to respond to a donor family letter until they have come to terms with their feelings.

Some donor families chose not to write for personal reasons. At times, people find it helpful to disconnect from situations that remind them of their loss. Most often, once enough time has passed, donor families are able to communicate with recipients.

Please keep in mind that everyone has a right to privacy, and individuals deal with circumstances differently and in their own time.

Communications Policy

Often times, transplant recipients want to express their gratitude to their donor’s family for the generous gift they received. Donor families also find solace in knowing that the recipients are doing well and may want to learn more about the people their loved one was able to help. The Donor Family Services department and transplant centers across the country work together to facilitate anonymous correspondence between donor families and recipients. This way, each party has the opportunity to connect with the other while maintaining confidentiality. Some donor families and recipients are able to have direct communications, and in some cases meet, as this is possible when a donor family and a recipient express a mutual interest in communicating directly and the guidelines for direct communications have been met by both parties.

Life Alliance Communications Policy

With the communications policy, donor families and recipients are able to disclose contact/identifying information* via their correspondence once the conditions named below are met.

  • Both parties, donor family and recipient(s), must participate in the exchange of anonymous correspondence for a period of six months, with a minimum of 2 letters/cards per party. Life Alliance’s staff will neither release nor confirm contact/identifying information*. The only information disclosed about a patient will be: age, gender and state of residence. Neither the cause of death nor the race of a patient (donor/recipient) will be disclosed.
  • Both parties, donor family and recipient(s), must express through written communication a mutual interest in disclosing contact/identifying information* via correspondence.
  • Both parties, donor family and recipient(s), must review communication guidelines which identify concerns and benefits associated with the disclosure of contact/identifying information* and direct meetings and sign consent forms in order to receive correspondence containing contact/identifying information*.

If the conditions stated above are not met, the Donor Family Services Program will only facilitate anonymous communications between the two parties. All correspondence will be read and reviewed by Donor Family Services staff. If contact/identifying information* is found (last name, place of employment, address, telephone number, e-mail, etc.) prior to the above named conditions being met, it will be blacked out prior to forwarding it to the appropriate party. If any of the two parties (donor families/recipients) is not interested in receiving correspondence from the other, his preference will be honored regardless of the other party’s preference. Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency will not arrange (take part in facilitating) encounters between the two parties (donor family and transplant recipients) with the intention of introducing them to each other. However, the Donor Family Services Department is available to provide counseling in preparation for these direct contacts upon request.

*Contact/Identifying Information: Last Name, Address, Telephone Number, E-Mail Address

How can I correspond with my loved one’s recipient(s)?

If you would like to write to your loved one’s recipient(s), you may send a greeting card or a letter via mail, fax or email. If there is more than one recipient, copies will be made and sent to each of them.

The following are program guidelines and suggestions to help you get started as you begin to write about your loved one.

Please adhere to the following:

  • Use first names only (no last names).
  • Include state of residence only (not the city).
  • Mention occupation (not employer).
  • Share information about your family (children, spouse, etc.).
  • Discuss hobbies or interests.
  • Take into consideration your religious comments, since individual religious denominations are unknown.
  • Use simple language.

Discussing your donation experience:

  • Explain how the donation has helped you deal with your loss.
  • Describe what has occurred in your life since the donation.
  • You may also like to describe your loves one’s personality.
  • Most importantly, please communicate in a sensitive manner.

If the transplant occurred in another city, your card/letter will be mailed to the corresponding transplant center and this center’s staff will forward it to the recipient. This may take a few weeks. Please allow extra time for the recipient to receive your message. If the recipient chooses to write, he/she will forward the letter/card to the transplant center staff and it will be forwarded to Life Alliance.

Sample Letter:

Dear Recipient,

My name is Mary and my son John was an organ, eye and tissue donor. My family and I live in Florida. John has two sisters, Susan and Patty. They are 23 and 30 years old. John loved scuba diving and playing baseball. Although he was only 20 when he died, he had the opportunity to travel to many places. He had many friends as he was growing up. Our house was often where kids would get together.

I hope you are doing well and on the way to a full recovery. We would like to hear from you if you feel comfortable doing so. If possible, we would also like to meet you one day (optional).

How can I correspond with my donor family?

Frequently transplant recipients ask, “How can I possibly put into words to my donor family how I feel about them having given me the gift of life?” We encourage transplant recipients to write because many donor families have indicated to us that a simple, personal note from a recipient gives them comfort, validates their decision to donate their loved one’s organs, eyes and tissues, an helps them find happiness in knowing that “their loved one lives on.” A simple thank you is all that most donor families hope to receive from recipients.

If you would like to write to your donor family you may send a greeting card or a letter via mail, fax or email.

The following are program guidelines and suggestions to help you get started as you begin to write about your transplant experience.

Please adhere to the following:

  • Use first names only (no last names).
  • Include state of residence only (not the city).
  • Mention occupation (not employer).
  • Share information about your family (children, spouse, etc.).
  • Discuss hobbies or interests.
  • Take into consideration your religious comments, since individual religious denominations are unknown.
  • Use simple language.

Discussing your transplant experience:

  • Acknowledge the generous act of the donor and his/her family and thank them for their gift.
  • Describe your wait for a transplant and the impact on your family.
  • Tell your story-how the transplant has improved your health and changed your life.
  • Explain what has happened in your life since your transplant, such as becoming a parent/grandparent, returning to school/work, etc.

Sample Letter:

Dear Donor Family,

It has not been (3 month, etc.) since I received a heart transplant. I want you to know that I continue to give thanks each day for this gift of life and think of you and your family often. I am sorry for the loss of a loved one. I know how hard it must be to live without him/her. I hope you can find some comfort in knowing my life has changed because of your generosity and compassion. I have returned to college and will be celebrating my 24th birthday next month. It would be great to meet you one day if you feel comfortable with that (optional). My greatest thanks for a second chance at life.

Sincerely,
Peter

If the organ/eye/tissue recovery was completed in another city, your card/letter will be mailed to the corresponding organization and the agency’s staff will forward it to the donor family. This may take a few weeks. Please allow extra time for the donor family to receive your message. If the donor family chooses to write, he/she will forward the letter/card to the corresponding organization staff and it will be forwarded to Life Alliance.

Sending your letter/card:

Via Mail:

Include personal information separately (your full name & donor name, date of donation/transplantation, your address & telephone number).

Place letter/card along with paper containing personal information in an envelope and mail to:

Life Alliance – Donor Family Services
1951 NW 7th Avenue
Miami, FL 33133

Via E-mail:

Email letter as an attachment to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)and provide personal information in the body of the email.

Via Fax:

Fax letter to Donor Family Services Program at 305-243-9969 and provide personal information on the cover page.