By Bob Aronson
The population of the United States is about 320 million. Of that number 120,000 are on the national organ transplant waiting list. 22 of them die every day because there are not enough organs to go around. Numbers, just numbers. We hear them so often they are meaningless. But the numbers aren’t meaningless to the Husband who just lost his wife because there was no kidney for her, or the child who lost her dad because there was no liver. These numbers represent human lives, You or someone you love could be one of them some day and I know that from personal experience.
I was a broadcast journalist in 1967 when Dr. Christian Barnard performed the first heart transplant in South Africa. I remember telling one of my reporter colleagues that it was a really big deal because it would someday save thousands of lives. It never occurred to me that 40 years later I’d be one of those who benefited from Dr. Barnard’s pioneering efforts. I had a heart transplant In August of 2007
So don’t ignore those numbers because all the numbers have faces and names and feelings and they are scared and alone and in need. Right now 22 families are grieving, many children are being told that mommy or daddy won’t be coming home again. A parent is being told their 12 year old won’t survive the night. We are talking real lives here not just numbers. There are people out there, real honest to goodness people who just lost someone because there was no organ and they are so stricken with grief they cannot function. There are nurses and doctors who have to tell families that because there was no organ their loved one died. That means over 8,000 people die every year waiting for an organ transplant that never happens and every one of them is loved by someone. Every one of them will be missed. Many of them may have had great futures, we’ll never know because a whole lot of Americans just didn’t get around to becoming organ donors.
How can that be? How is it that a nation of 320 million people can allow 8,000 of their friends and neighbors to die when the solution is so simple and I mean really simple. You don’t even have to leave home to do it. You don’t have to get out of your damned chair. Just open the laptop, or turn on the desktop or say, “Hi Google,” to your tablet and you will be registering in mere moments. Keep reading and I’ll explain exactly how to register and save lives and you can get to feel really good about yourself.
First, chances are pretty good that you want to become an organ donor. You just haven’t gotten around to it yet. But, if you haven’t yet made up your mind think about this. Why take perfectly good organs to the grave with you when they could save some lives? Up to 60 lives can be saved and/or enhanced by one organ donor who is in good health.
Many organs can be used to save a life. In fact, one person has the potential has save up to eight people. Tissue donation can help more than 50 people and eye donation can restore the sight of two individuals. Here is a list of organs that can be donated: Lungs, Heart, Liver, Kidneys, Pancreas, Small intestines and skin (yes, skin is an organ).
While not organs, there are many other body parts than can be transplanted as well including Corneas, Heart Valves, Bone, Saphenous veins, Cartilage and ligaments to name a few. http://www.organdonor.gov/awareness/organizations/local-opo.html
So what’s the Problem? Well, there’s more than one. About two million people die every year but many of them are not organ donors. Also a large number of people who die have damaged and therefore non transplantable organs.
The biggest problem we face, though, is procrastination. In case you don’t know what that is it is when you see that mess in your garage and say, I’ll get to that tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. Polls and survey’s tell us that in excess of 90% of all Americans think organ donation is a great idea, but only about 40 percent actually become donors. And in some cases, not many, but some families will object to recovering the organs from a loved one for transplantation.
So let’s ask the question again, What’s the problem? Well, sorry to say it Americans, but you might be a big part of the problem. If you are not an organ donor, why not? What good are your organs going to do if cremated or buried with your body? It’s time you not only thought about organ donation, but did something about it. If you are not a donor here are some ways you can become one.
The easiest way. Go to www.donatelife.net. You can do this one from right where you are sitting. It only takes a few minutes, then tell your family, your physician and your spiritual or religious advisor…and you are done. You can formalize the process by adding “Organ donor” to your driver’s license, but again, be sure to tell your family what your wishes are so there’s no confusion when and if the time comes.
If you are confused about the process call your local OPO (Organ Procurement Organization) There are 58 of them in the United States. For help in finding yours go to http://www.organdonor.gov/awareness/organizations/local-opo.html
Recently I had a non-organ donor tell me that while it wasn’t on his license he was still a donor. He said he had made sure that his attorney included his wishes in his will. Well, I’m not an attorney, but aren’t wills usually read after the funeral? By then it is far too late to recover organs for transplant. If you do nothing else…nothing at all…tell the loved ones in your family that you want to be an organ donor so if the time comes and they are asked they’ll be able to say, “Yes,” we know that’s what he wanted.
It is my opinion that one of the reasons people procrastinate is that they don’t see any urgency in signing up. They think, “I’m in good health, I plan on living a long time and they can’t take my organs until I am dead, so what’s the rush? It’s a good question. I’m sure the 30 year old man whose heart beats in my chest might have had the same thought at one time, but he signed up anyway.
The point is none of us know when we are going to die. I pray that everyone who reads this leads a very long life, but that’s not reality. Some will die well before “Their Time.”
So there is an urgency, both on your part and on the part of the recipient. Can you imagine what it feels like to be on a transplant list day after day, month after month, year after year, waiting for an organ, knowing you are dying and there’s little modern medicine can do short of a transplant. Think about that…seriously think about that for a minute.
Peter Curran and his wife Ashley know what that’s like. They live in Boston. Peter has been on the list for eight (8) years. 8 years — that’s mind boggling torture for both Ashley and Peter. They are friends of mine and oh so brave and upbeat, but as time goes on Peter’s liver isnt’ getting healthier and he is spending more and more time in a hospital bed because of complications. Peter Curran needs your help. Ashley loves her husband with every fiber in her body, she is an excellent caregiver, but somehow we — all of us, the medical system, the government — everybody is failing them. Why is there no liver for Peter? It’s because not enough people are donors. If you are procrastinating or know of someone who is, remind yourself or your friends of Peter and Ashley. He can’t work, he has very little energy or stamina. He’d love to go to work again, he’d like nothing better, but right now all he and Ashley want is for someone to donate a liver that matches Peter’s needs. Seriously, is that too much to ask, I think not.
Now some people don’t donate because they believe in the many myths surrounding organ donation. So let’s take that on, too, while we are at it. Here’s’ what the American Transplant Foundation has to say about the subject:
Myth: Age, illness or physical defects could prevent me from being a donor
Fact: Each person’s medical condition is evaluated at the time of their death to determine what organs and tissues are viable for donation. People living with chronic diseases or those who have a history of cancer or other serious diseases are still encouraged to join the donor registry.
Myth: If doctors know that I am registered to be an organ or tissue donor, they won’t work as hard to save my life.
Fact: The first priority of a medical professional is to save lives when sick or injured people come to the hospital. Organ and tissue donation isn’t even considered or discussed until after death is declared. ypically, doctors and nurses involved in a person’s care before death are not involved in the recovery or transplantation of donated corneas, organs or tissues.
Myth: If you are rich or a celebrity, you can move up the waiting list more quickly.
Fact: Severity of illness, time spent waiting, blood type and match potential are the factors that determine your place on the waiting list. A patient’s income, race or social status are never taken into account in the allocation process. Click here for more details about organ allocation by organ type.
Myth: After donating an organ or tissue, a closed casket funeral is the only option.
Fact: Organ procurement organizations treat each donor with the utmost respect and dignity, allowing a donor’s body to be viewed in an open casket funeral.
Myth: My religion doesn’t support organ and tissue donation.
Fact: Most major religions support organ and tissue donation. Typically, religions view organ and tissue donation as acts of charity and goodwill. Donor Alliance urges you to discuss organ and tissue donation with your spiritual advisor if you have concerns on this issue.
Myth: My family will be charged for donating my organs.
Fact: Costs associated with recovering and processing organs and tissues for transplant are never passed on to the donor family. The family may be expected to pay for medical expenses incurred before death is declared and for expenses involving funeral arrangements.
If you desire more information about the facts and myths of organ donation please visit. http://www.americantransplantfoundation.org/about-transplant/facts-and-myths/
Please remember when you hear 22 people die every day waiting for an organ that the numbers have faces and names and the smile and care and hurt just like you do. Remember Peter and Ashley and the thousands just like them. Register as an organ donor and feel like a live saver. That’s a pretty darn good benefit.
Bob Aronson is the founder of Facebook’s Organ Transplant Initiative support group and the founder and author of the nearly 300 blogs on Bob’s Newheart where you’ll find information on a wide variety of subjects related to donation and transplantation. http://www.bobsnewheart.wordpress.com