“Would you like to be an organ donor?” is a question often asked of residents of Cedar Rapids and elsewhere, often when renewing their driver’s license, which is a time when not everyone is thinking about the end of their life or end of life care.
But the question is an important one, not just for the person deciding whether to be an organ donor, but to their family, and ultimately to people waiting for an organ transplant.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice know that the decision whether or not to give is a personal one, and people who don’t want to do so definitely have the right to say “no thank you” or “I’m not comfortable with this.”
But at the same time, we have worked with patients who have donated their organs and we’ve worked with patients who have received donor organs. And we do encourage people to become organ donors.
In some types of situations, people can still share part of themselves with a matching recipient and continue living, such as a kidney or part of a liver.
In other circumstances, recipients are found immediately after someone’s death based on a variety of criteria. Sometimes, if time is critical, a donor organ may not even immediately go to the next person on the list, but to someone toward the top of the list who can make it to the hospital in time.
An extensive network around the country connects health care providers, patients who need organs, hospitals and even transportation companies.
This helps make sure that proper alerts are given out when a donor organ becomes available. It also helps keep track of who has been recommended to need a new organ and their ranking on the list.
According to organdonor.gov, which is part of the Health Resources and Services Administration, there are a variety of lists of people who need transplants of certain organs.
As of early April, there were a total of 112,000 women, men and children on the national waiting list for organ transplants. One person is added every 10 minutes.
But there are usually fewer donors found in time compared to the number of people on the list. In 2019, there were 39,817 transplants performed, which is considered a record high.
Thinking of others
Some people may wait months, sometimes years, for their chance at a new organ. Sometimes, they may die while waiting. For instance, someone with a weak heart may be placed on the national heart transplant list. But their heart and other organs may deteriorate quickly before they can reach the top and a matching donor can be found.
Organdonor.gov tells us that 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant.
Timing is critical, as well the donor and recipient being close biological matches so the organ isn’t rejected. Although there are a variety of medications that have improved this process, similar biological compatibility is vital.
Age can also be a factor: 2 out of every 3 people on the list are over age 50.
People are waiting for all types of organs, with the most popular being kidney (83.1 percent), liver (10.4 percent), heart (3.0 percent), lung (1.1 percent) and other organs 2.4 percent.
Statistics show that the average donor with viable organs can give as many as eight people the chance to continue their life and continue their life with better functions – some people with damaged organs may have been under severe restrictions and told not to do much to risk themselves.
It also isn’t just the recipients who will benefit from a donation – it can be their family, friends and loved ones who have been worried about them and their health for years, and some have even been praying for a donor to appear.
Interestingly, people generally like the idea of organs being able to help others after or even before their death, yet not everyone takes the opportunity to indicate that they are interested in doing so themselves.
As many of 90 percent of the U.S. population is in favor of organ donation but 60 percent actually sign up.
That’s part of the reason that the question is asked at driver’s license centers. It’s a place that everyone is asked to go every at least every few years, maybe more sooner. But there are other ways to sign up, including through your local hospital or your health provider.
This month is also an opportunity to learn more. April is considered Donate Life Month, an opportunity to learn more about the donation process, honor those who have made a donation and also salute health care providers and other members of transplant teams.
The DonateLife.Net site includes a variety of resources about the value of donations and explanations about the modern process of transplant. It also encourages a feeling of hope, rebirth, and support.