23 News Special Report: Understanding Tissue Donation

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ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Many of our drivers' licenses are marked stating that when the time comes, we want to donate our organs to save the lives of others. And in Illinois, if you're an organ donor, you're most likely also a tissue donor. Two life-saving gestures that can be very different.

Ten years of questioning the color of traffic lights are now behind Doug Schandelmeier.

"I started looking at the cross traffic."

Fuchs dystrophy caused his eyesight to dramatically deteriorate. That all changed in October, when Doug underwent a corneal transplant in his right eye.

"It's meant a lot to me and improved my life a lot."

That's thanks to a now deceased man from Illinois. Doug hopes to one day meet his family. The loss of their loved one is not only helping Doug drive with confidence, this man could save or enhance as many as 100 lives.

"Unlike organs which are allocated and used right away, tissue can be stored up for months, stored up to years," says Lynn Williams, Operational Supervisor of Critical Care at SwedishAmerican Hospital.

Tissue isn't inter-mixed. Skin from the torso helps heal burn victims. Ligaments and tendons get athletes with torn ACL's back on the court. Metal implants can be avoided by using bones ground into a paste. And babies born with a heart defect could receive new heart valves, allowing them to live a full life.

"There's no matching with tissue donations, there's no live blood cells, so the risk of rejection, the risk of infection is lower with tissue donation," says Williams.

Most organs and tissue are harvested in an operating room, a sterile environment. And what some are used for might surprise you. Elective surgeries, like a penis enlargement or lip enhancement. In Illinois, registering as an organ donor means you're an organ and tissue donor. That's unless you specify in your will. Most other states' registries let you choose what you're willing to give up.

Doug is thankful his donor was willing to give their corneas. He plans to have another transplant, this one in his left eye, in about a year.

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