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Published: September, 2010; Vol 7, Num 4

 

Blood, marrow and organ donation is essential to saving lives, but not enough people step up to the plate. In a series that began in July, LIFELINES ONLINE explores donation issues.

Organ Donation: Gift of Life, Gift of Comfort

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LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck

Nobody wants to talk about dying, let alone what happens after we die, yet not doing so results in death for 19 people each day.

Unfortunately for some, dying while waiting for a transplant is a fact of life. Reluctance to have plans in place for what we want done with our bodies when we die contributes to a chronic shortage of organs and tissues.

“Although organ donation is a broadly supported concept, few of us take the necessary steps to make it a reality by joining a donor registry, carrying a donor card, designating ‘donor choice’ on our driver’s license or making our families aware of our wishes,” says Noel C. Borck, the LHSFNA’s Management Co-Chairman. “Potential donors usually die from unanticipated incidents like car accidents, falls and aneurisms. Not letting others know in advance that you want to be a donor means that, at your sudden death, second chances for as many as 50 lives are lost, legacies that might also bring comfort to the loved ones who are coping with your loss.”

Organ Donation

Much of the body is able to be donated. In addition to organs and bone, doctors can transplant eyes, corneas, heart valves, tendons and veins. Living donations are also possible:  a portion of the liver can be donated and then regenerates; an entire pancreas is not necessary for the body to function; and, life is possible with one kidney.

Minorities Need to Donate

Many diseases that can lead to organ failure and transplant need are found more frequently in ethnic minority groups than in the general population. Diabetes and high blood pressure are high among African Americans who, along with Asians, Latinos and Pacific Islanders, are also three times more likely to develop kidney disease. Genetic similarity is a factor in transplant success, and, in minority communities, the rate of organ donation does not keep pace with need. Minority patients often wait longer, are sicker by the time a match is found and are more likely to die waiting. Increased participation from minority groups will lead to better outcomes.

There are many misunderstandings and misconceptions about organ donation. Here are some facts to keep in mind:

  • Even after donation, an open casket is possible. The donor’s body is not disfigured.
  • No cost is incurred by the donor’s family.
  • Most major religions support organ donation.
  • A person who has signed a donor card receives the same medical care as one who has not.
  • With the exception of whole body donation, which advances medical research and education, organ donation has no connection to experiments and is, of itself, not experimental.
  • Transplant success rates are high.
  • Donors range in age from newborns to senior citizens.
  • Information about the donor is only given to the person receiving the organ and only if the donor’s family allows.

“Discussing what happens to our bodies after we die is very hard for most of us. Yet, there are choices to be made that could have far reaching effects that positively impact many other lives,” says Borck. “Organ donation is a generous act that not only gives meaning to an untimely death, but also brings comfort to your loved ones by making life possible for someone else.”  

[Janet Lubman Rathner]