Communication Guidelines: Writing to Your Loved One’s Recipients

As a donor family member, you may or may not wish to communicate with the recipients of your loved one’s organs. Some donor families find that contact with the recipients helps to ease their grief. Others prefer simply knowing that others live on. It is your personal decision.

Some families may not be ready to write to the recipients at this time, but may decide in a few months or years from now that you would like to do so. There is no time limit for sending a letter, but you may wish to contact the Center for Donation & Transplant to obtain an update on the conditions of the recipients before doing so.  If you find yourself unsure of what to write, our Family Service team is available to assist you in writing to your loved one’s recipients. You can email them at familyservices@cdtny.org

Oftentimes, recipients will choose to write to families first. Our Family Service Coordinators will always contact families before mailing out their first recipient letter to ensure that they would like to receive it. After the first letter has been mailed, any subsequent correspondence will automatically be mailed to families unless they request to opt-out of receiving the letters. Some families may not be ready to receive letters.  If this is the case, our Family Service Coordinators will hold on to the letter indefinitely in the event that the family would like to receive it at a later time.
 

What information should I include in my letter?

  • Write information you feel comfortable sharing about you, your loved one and other family members. This may include occupation, hobbies or interests, perhaps special things your loved one liked to do or information about your family.
  • Keep identities anonymous. Avoid using last names, street addresses, city names, phone numbers or names of hospitals, physicians or your place of employment.
  • You may include first names of yourself, your loved one and other family members.
  • Sign only your first name.
  • You may feel more comfortable sending a holiday or “Thinking of You” card if you are unsure what to write at this time.

 
Can I include pictures with my letters?

Many families have chosen to include pictures of their loved one or their family in letters; however, we ask that you ensure there is nothing that could identify you in the pictures.  If you do decide to send a picture, our Family Services Coordinators will inform the transplant center of this addition.  This allows the transplant center to ask their recipient if they are comfortable receiving a photo.
 

Will my letters be reviewed to ensure confidentiality?

CDT reserves the right to return correspondence that may be harmful to the recipient or that is not written anonymously. The recipient may be contacted to request permission to forward the correspondence. If your letter includes identifying information, it will be removed at the discretion of CDT. Please allow a few weeks for delivery.

Some recipients may send a letter or card to you in response to your letter. Others may choose not to write at this time – remember – it is their personal decision. Many recipients have said they feel overwhelmed with emotion and have difficulty expressing their gratitude in writing, and others may need time to recover from their surgery.
 

Who do I send the letter to?

Place your card or letter in an unsealed envelope along with a separate sheet of paper with your full name, and the name and date of death of your loved one to ensure that it reaches the appropriate individual(s).
 

Mail both items to:
Donor Family Services
Center For Donation & Transplant
218 Great Oaks Blvd.
Albany, NY 12203
 

Or you can e-mail your letter:

  1. Attach your letter to the e-mail as a Word document or enter the text into the body of your e-mail.
  2. Please include your full name, and the name and date of death of your loved one, along with your contact information.
  3. Send your e-mail to: familyservices@cdtny.org

I’m a recipient and am interested in writing to my donor’s family. Who do I send my letter to?

  • You can send the letter directly to your Transplant Center.  Place your card or letter in an unsealed envelope along with a separate sheet of paper with your full name and the date of your transplant to your Transplant Center. Your Transplant Social Worker or Coordinator will then review the letter to ensure confidentiality before sending it on to CDT.

 
What information should I include in my letter?

  • Acknowledge the family’s loss and thank them for their gift.
  • Write information you feel comfortable sharing about you and family members. This may include occupation, hobbies or interests.
  • Share what type of transplant you received and how it has impacted your life and those in it.
  • Keep identities anonymous. Avoid using last names, street addresses, city names, phone numbers or names of hospitals, physicians or your place of employment.
  • Avoid using complex medical terms.
  • You may include first names of yourself, your loved one and other family members.
  • Sign only your first name.
  • You may feel more comfortable sending a holiday, “Thinking of You” or “Thank You” card if you are unsure what to write at this time.

 
Do donor families and recipients ever meet?

Occasionally, donor families and recipients who have communicated on a regular basis decide they would like to meet. In order for this to occur, at least one anonymous letter from both parties must be exchanged.  Then, if the donor family and recipient have expressed an interest in direct communication, both will be asked to sign a consent form allowing us to release their contact information.
 

Please note:

With the Internet’s current search capabilities and heightened functionality of social media sites, the opportunity for donor families and recipients to identify themselves has greatly increased.  Please consider this whenever disclosing something on Facebook, a personal blog, or an online obituary to protect your privacy and the privacy of others.
 

How do I request an organ/tissue recipient update?

If interested in writing a letter to recipients, it is often recommended to contact a Family Service Coordinator to request an organ/tissue recipient update before doing so, particularly if it’s been over a year since the date of your loved one’s donation. Our Family Service Coordinators are happy to help get in contact with transplant centers to obtain recipient updates before families write a letter. If we receive feedback from the transplant center that the recipient is not ready to correspond, we will contact you to discuss the next steps.