Teri T., DOUBLE LUNG TRANSPLANT RECIPIENT
Donation Frequently Asked Questions
Physicians perform a series of tests to determine if brain death has occurred. Consideration of the diagnosis is based on the catastrophic injury and the current clinical presentation. Tests are conducted to examine all areas of the brain including the breathing center, confirming that the patient is unable to breathe without mechanical assistance (apnea). Brain death is diagnosed by clinical examinations done by two different physicians, and further confirmed by other tests (apnea or inability to breathe, EEG showing brain silence, blood flow or CT angiography showing no blood entering the brain).
Once brain death has been declared, there is no chance for recovery. The legal time of death is when the final diagnosis of brain death has been documented in the hospital chart. Hospitals typically provide some compassionate time before disconnecting the ventilator after brain death declaration.
When someone is brain dead, there is no blood flow or oxygen to their brain. The brain (including the brain stem, which controls breathing) has ceased functioning in any capacity. When a ventilator is breathing for a person, organs such as the heart and liver continue to receive oxygen and are able to function for a few days after the brain has died. Unless damaged by injury or disease, organs may be donated to others for transplant.
In brain death, the heart will continue to beat for a period of time when provided with oxygen (through ventilator support) and other medications to support blood pressure. However, the heart will eventually stop despite all support.