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Organ Donation: Pass it OnPosted Tuesday, July 19, 2011, at 8:39 AM
Give a Gift of Life
A gift with a major impact -- one that will long be remembered with gratitude -- takes just a bit of preparation. When you become an organ donor, you can save the lives of up to 8 people. And if you donate tissues like blood cells, bone or corneas, you can help even more.
Organ transplantation was once considered an experimental procedure with a low success rate. Many transplanted organs survived just a few days or weeks. But researchers have transformed transplant surgery from risky to routine. It's now the treatment of choice for patients with end-stage organ disease. Each day, about 80 Americans receive a lifesaving organ transplant.
"The outcomes of transplantation are really so good these days that it truly makes a difference for the people who receive organ transplants," says Dr. Sandy Feng, a transplant surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco. "The organs are clearly lifesaving."
The problem now is that there aren't enough organs to meet the demand. In early 2011, more than 110,000 people were on the nationwide waiting list for an organ. An average of nearly 20 of them dies each day while waiting.
The kidney is the most commonly transplanted organ. More than 16,000 kidney transplantations were performed in the U.S. last year. The wait, though, can be long. In February 2011, nearly 90,000 people were on the national waiting list for a kidney. Next most commonly transplanted is the liver, with more than 6,000 surgeries in 2010. That's followed by the heart, lungs, pancreas and intestines.
You can donate some organs -- like a kidney or part of your liver -- while you're still alive. You have 2 kidneys but really need only one. And the liver can re-grow if part of it is removed. But donating these organs requires major surgery, which carries risks. That's why living donors are often family or friends of the transplant recipient.
Most organs, though, are donated after the donor has died. The organs must be recovered quickly after death to be usable. Many come from patients who've been hospitalized following an accident or stroke. Once all lifesaving efforts have failed and the patient is declared dead, then organ donation becomes a possibility. "When a person dies, it can feel like a burden to a family to make decisions about organ donation," says Feng. "So it would be a real gift to a family to indicate your decision to be an organ donor while you're still alive, so they don't have to make the decision for you."
In addition to organs, you can donate tissues. One of the most commonly transplanted tissues is the cornea, the transparent covering over the eye. A transported cornea can restore sight to someone blinded by an accident, infection or disease. Donated skin tissue can be used as grafts for burn victims or for reconstruction after surgery. Donated bones can replace cancerous bones and help prevent amputation of an arm or leg. Donated veins can be used in cardiac bypass surgery.
"I personally knew a young woman who died and was an organ donor. The day of her funeral her husband received a card in the mail expressing thanks to him and his wife for the donation and telling him that her cornea had already been transplanted affording the gift of sight to someone else. The wife of a friend of mine who was an organ donor received notice that his donation had helped some burn victims. I have another friend who was waiting for a liver, he was getting desperate in his wait but finally did receive the transplant. He is doing so well now and realizes that without the unselfishness of the donor he might not be here today," states Ruth Dockins.
To become an organ donor you can go to www.organdonor.gov/stateMap.asp it takes less than 10 minutes to register. Then note on your driver's license that you are a donor, tell your family and friends, your physician and faith leader about your decision.
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Ruth Dockins is the Public Information Director for the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging and author of 'Age Spots,' a column/blog which is featured in several Southeast Missouri newspapers and is devoted to seniors and senior lifestyles.
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