For the 83,000 Americans waiting for life-saving organ transplants, the decision to become an organ donor is a matter of life and death.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, 17 people in this country die every day while waiting for organs. That is why the Foundation has been a driving force in declaring April as National Donate Life Month.
This year, we mark the 61st anniversary of the first organ transplant. Since that time, organ donations have saved more than 100,000 lives. The science and technology continue to improve, but the number of organ donors can’t meet the need. One organ donor can save or enhance up to 50 lives. It is also possible for live donors to give the gift of life through kidney or partial liver or lung donation.
The decision to be an organ or tissue donor is a two-step process. You not only need to make the decision and sign a card, but you also need to share your decision with your family. Sharing your decision with your family members spares them the added burden of having to guess your wishes at a difficult time.
Since none of us know the day or hour or death, it is important to tell your family now.
Be informed with these quick facts on organ donations:
• Donors and their family members pay nothing for the gift. Any costs associated with the transplant are paid by the recipient.
• The organ allocation and distribution system is blind to wealth or social status. The wait is governed by blood type, length of time on the waiting list, severity of illness and other medical criteria.
• Organ and tissue donation has no effect on lifesaving efforts if you are ever severely injured. Recovery takes place only after all efforts to save your life are exhausted and death is legally declared. The medical team treating you is completely separate from the transplantation team and the transplant team is not notified until all lifesaving efforts have failed.
• Indicating a desire for organ donation on your driver’s license or in your will is not enough. Your driver’s license may not be readily available, and can be over-ruled by family wishes. And, by the time your will is read, it will be too late to recover your organs. Telling your family now that you want to be an organ and tissue donor is the best way to ensure that your wishes are carried out.
• Organs can be donated from newborns on up. At the time of your death, the appropriate medical professionals will determine whether your organs are usable.
Dr. Brent Rotton is the chief of staff at Northeastern Health System.