by Bana Jobe

Take out your driver's license and look it over. Do you see a little heart or any other indication that you've signed up to be an organ donor?

If so, kudos! You've taken a big step toward helping some of the roughly 123,000 Americans waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. Every 10 minutes, someone new is added to that waitlist, so the need for organ donation is constant.

If you haven't yet signed up to be a state or national organ donor, now is your opportunity. Here's what you need to know about becoming an organ donor.

About organ donation

Organ donation happens when a donor agrees to donate their tissues or organs to a recipient, a person who needs a transplantation. Transplantable organs and tissues include the lungs, heart, kidneys, pancreas, intestines, corneas, bones, bone marrow and skin.

All told, about 169 million people in the U.S. have registered to become organ donors. While many organ donations happen upon the donor's death, living organ donation — such as giving up a single kidney or a part of the liver — is also common.

Most religious affiliations allow or encourage organ donation. The National Kidney Foundation maintains a list that discusses where many organized groups stand on the practice.

Benefits of organ donation

Becoming an organ donor comes with one of the most gratifying benefits: the chance to save lives. Just one donor can save eight people and make a substantial difference in the lives of 75 more.

Moreover, close relatives of deceased donors sometimes get to meet with the recipient directly. Hearing the beat of the departed loved one's heart, for example, can mean the world to a surviving family.

Despite these benefits, there aren't enough donors to meet the need, particularly for certain organs such as kidneys. Every day, about 17 people die while waiting for a transplant.

Medical advancements like the world's first pig-to-human organ transplant provide innovative alternatives, but these procedures can still be risky and less desirable than human-to-human transplantation. That's why patients on waitlists need more donors to take the pledge.

How to sign up

Signing up to be an organ donor is free and easy.

To become an organ donor in the event of your death, sign up through the National Donate Life Registry or your state's registry, or indicate that you want to become a donor when you apply for a driver's license. Be sure to inform your family of your wishes too.

Separately, Donate Life America now offers a new registry: the National Donate Life Living Donor Registry. If you are interested in becoming a living kidney donor, you can indicate this when you register on the National Donate Life Registry. The process typically involves working directly with a kidney transplant center in your area. Living donors generally designate their donations to people they know, but you can also donate to a recipient you don't know. You may also want to consider joining the Be the Match national organ donor registry to be alerted when you're a match for a stranger in need of a bone marrow donor.

A gesture of hope and kindness

Only 60% of Americans have signed up to be organ donors, but more than 90% say they support it.

Imagine the hope this one gesture of kindness might someday bring to a person in need. And not just one — but up to 75 fellow human beings who might someday have eyesight, live without dialysis or receive a life-saving organ because of you.

Few things in life are more rewarding than helping someone in need. Consider taking that first step and sign up to be a lifesaver today.