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Contacting my donor family

Writing anything can be a challenge. Staring at a blank sheet of paper, you want to make sure to convey what you’re thinking and feeling, and to do it accurately. But sitting down to write a note to your donor family can feel overwhelming.

The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to get started. The process of writing your letter may take some time, but at least you’ve moved from inactivity to activity–toward something that could mean a lot to a donor family.

In addition, each transplant center may have different procedures for contacting donor families, so it is best that you talk to your transplant coordinator or local OPO for specific recommendations and requirements.

Getting ready

  • Find a card that is beautiful and peaceful
  • Begin your note on a day that you’re feeling positive
  • Write the note in your own handwriting
  • Remember that your note is anonymous

What to avoid

  • Any specific information about yourself (age, where you live) or your family
  • The name of your surgeon or transplant center
  • Religious terminology (out of respect for the donor family’s faith tradition)

Things you can include

  • Awareness of the donor family’s loss
  • How grateful you are for their loved one’s donation
  • Something about yourself and your family (hobbies, interests)
  • How long you were on the transplant waiting list
  • The difference the transplant made (e.g. in how you feel, what you’re now able to do)
  • Life events you’ve seen after transplant (e.g. graduations, marriages, birth of children or grandchildren)

Mailing your card or letter

  1. Place your card or envelope in an unsealed envelope
  2. Include a separate piece of paper with your full name and the date of your transplant
  3. Place these items in another envelope and mail them to your transplant center
  4. Allow extra mailing time. It can take several weeks for your letter to reach the donor family

Once the transplant center receives your letter:

  1. The transplant center will forward your letter to your OPO
  2. A coordinator from the OPO will review it to ensure confidentiality
  3. The coordinator will then contact the donor family to ask if they wish to accept correspondence from recipients
  4. If the donor family does not wish to communicate, the OPO will inform your transplant center accordingly
  5. If the donor family does wish to communicate, the OPO will forward your letter to them


Although there is no law that prevents a donor’s family and the organ recipient to meet, all OPOs have policies in place to protect the privacy of both parties.

Will I hear from the donor’s family?

You may or may not hear from your donor’s family. Some donor families may feel that writing about their loved one and their decision to donate helps them in their grieving process. Others choose not to write to the organ recipient.

If the donor family chooses to respond, they will send a letter to the OPO. The OPO will then forward the response to you.

Reference and Publication Information >
United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is committed to providing accurate and reliable information for transplant patients. The content on this page was originally created on September 15, 2004 by UNOS and last modified on October 18, 2012.

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