What Is a Donor Site?

Nicky Sutton

A donor site is an area on a patient’s body where skin has been removed to cover an open wound elsewhere. The site is therefore a wound itself and needs to be dressed and kept clean in order to prevent infection. Donor sites are areas of healthy skin that can be taken and used to heal wounds that are too large or too damaged to suture together.

Donor sites where full thickness grafts have been harvested require sutures.
Donor sites where full thickness grafts have been harvested require sutures.

An open wound on a person's body may be too large to close or may result in an excessive amount of scarring. A skin graft is therefore required to cover the wound. Skin for the graft is taken from another part of the patient’s body, and it is this area from which the skin is taken that is the donor site. Taking skin from the site creates a new wound on the patient's body. It is removed in a way that minimizes scarring and pain, in a carefully controlled manner.

Autograft bone can be used to help heal a fracture in any area of the body.
Autograft bone can be used to help heal a fracture in any area of the body.

Donor sites also exist where hair grafting or bone grafting are needed. Hair grafting is where a section of a patient's scalp tissue, containing hair follicles, is removed and repositioned on a part of the head that has less hair. The donor site is the area where the tissue graft came from. During a bone crafting procedure, bone is taken from a part of a patient’s body to repair a break or fracture in another part. The donor site is where the bone is harvested from.

Donor sites exist in situations where hair grafting is necessary.
Donor sites exist in situations where hair grafting is necessary.

During skin grafting, a section of skin is removed that includes the epidermis and dermis layers of skin. It is severed from its blood supply and lifted away. The deepest layer of skin, the deep dermis, is usually left at the donor site to regenerate itself and heal. Full thickness grafts remove the full thickness of skin from the site, which then requires sutures in order to heal. In these cases the donor site is only small.

Thick, small area skin grafts are usually taken from inconspicuous areas such as behind the ear, groin area or scalp. Larger, thinner skin grafts are usually taken from more visible large areas, such as the thigh or lower leg. A common method of skin grafting is the autograft, where skin is removed from the site using a special tool that effectively shears skin away.

A donor site is usually chosen according to matching skin tone and to ensure that it is in a relatively inconspicuous place should scarring occur. Often great attention is paid to the recipient site and attaching the skin graft to the open wound. Affective healing of the donor site must not be overlooked. It should be dressed and kept clean like any other wound, as it is can also potentially become infected.

Skin grafting is commonly used to treat severe burns.
Skin grafting is commonly used to treat severe burns.

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