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Our History

Soon after organ transplantation began in Alabama in 1968, the need for transplantable organs quickly exceeded the supply. In those days, no systematic approach to procurement had been established. Barriers that kept health care professionals from suggesting donation included a lack of knowledge about donor criteria and procedures, a dislike of discussing the matter of donation with grieving families, lack of time, and concern about legal aspects.

Since those beginnings, many barriers have been removed, but unfortunately, some obstacles still remain. Uniform criteria for establishing death have been developed, and laws have been passed that require hospitals to offer the option of organ/tissue donation to families at the time of their loved one's death.

Organ procurement organizations (OPO) have been created to educate and promote organ and tissue donation. Established in 1979 as the "Alabama Organ Bank," the independent organ procurement organization (OPO) has since been renamed the Alabama Organ Center (AOC) and has grown to serve all hospitals in the state. The AOC is the federally approved OPO for Alabama.

Since its founding, the AOC has provided more than 4,000 kidneys for transplantation, as well as hundreds of other transplantable organs such as hearts, heart-lungs, lungs, livers and pancreas. This procurement center played a key role in establishing the University of Alabama at Birmingham as one of the largest kidney transplant programs nationally. The AOC is approved by the Health Care Financing Administration, UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing), and the Medicare program for reimbursement.

Recent changes in the donation system have been implemented to improve donation in the United States. In 1998, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services implemented regulations requiring hospitals to notify their local organ procurement organization (OPO) of every death. This process, known as "routine referral," enables the OPO to evaluate every death for donation opportunities. Regulations also require that someone from the OPO or a trained Designated Requestor, an individual who has been trained by the OPO in best practices for approaching families, speak with families about their donation options. This regulation ensures that families are given adequate support and information during this difficult time.

Alabama has achieved some exciting milestones. In 2007, Alabama had six hospitals recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Huntsville Hospital/Huntsville Hospital East, Flowers Hospital, Southeast Alabama Medical Center, University of South Alabama Medical Center, Children's Hospital of Alabama and Trinity Medical Center received the Department's Medal of Honor. The medals were presented to hospitals with eight or more potential organ donors who sustained a donation rate of 75 percent or more from among eligible donors for at least a year. Not surprising, Alabama had its highest number of organ donors in its history in 2007. The AOC facilitated 155 organ donors in 2007. In 2008, the Alabama Organ Center received accreditation from the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB). Now, the AOC is part of an elite group of nearly 100 similar facilities across the United States, and abroad, that has earned their AATB accreditation.

The AOC is looking forward to a promising future. We are excited about our hospital partnerships, the support we provide donor families and the opportunity to improve lives through donation.

If you have any questions about organ and tissue donation, please call us at 1-800-252-3677 or Click here to email us.