Human Organ Donor Facts
Learn the Truth about Organ Donation
(ARA) - Since 1954, when doctors successfully performed the first human organ transplant, the lives of more than 400,000 people in the United States have been saved by transplantation. It is the leading form of treatment for many forms of end-stage organ failure. With this success, however, has come increasing demand for donated organs. Today, more than 88,000 people are awaiting transplants nationwide – and an average of 118 people are added to the nation’s organ transplant waiting list daily (that’s one every 12 minutes).
But the tragic fact remains; there are not enough organs donated each year for the people who need them. And the number of people waiting continues to grow. “Each day an average of 17 people die while waiting for a suitable organ,” says Walter Graham executive director of United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a non-profit group that coordinates the nation’s organ transplant system. The only long-term solution to the organ shortage is for more people to agree to become organ donors. However, misperception of the organ donation process may deter potential donors.
Here are some common myths about organ sharing – and the truth about what really happens.
* Myth – If emergency room doctors know you’re an organ donor, they won’t work as hard to save you.
Fact -- If you are sick or injured and admitted to the hospital, the number one priority is to save your life. Organ donation can only be considered after brain death has been declared by a physician.
* Myth – When you’re waiting for a transplant, your financial or celebrity status is as important as your medical status.
Fact -- Not so. When you’re on the transplant waiting list, what counts is the severity of your illness, time spent waiting, blood type and other medical information.
* Myth -- Having “organ donor” on your driver’s license or carrying a donor card is all you have to do to become a donor
Fact -- You should also make sure your family understands your decision to be an organ donor.
* Myth – Only hearts, livers and kidneys can be transplanted.
Fact -- The list of organs that are needed includes heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. Tissue that can be donated include the eyes, skin, bone, heart valves and tendons.
* Myth – Your history of medical illness or your age means your organs or tissues are unfit for donation.
Fact – People of all ages and medical histories should consider themselves donors. At the time of death, medical professionals will review your medical and social histories to determine whether or not you can be a donor. With recent advances in transplantation, many more people than ever before can be donors.
* Myth – If you agree to donate your organs, your family will be charged for the costs.
Fact – There is no cost to the donor’s family or estate for organ and tissue donation. Funeral costs remain the responsibility of the family.
Myth – Organ donation disfigures the body and changes the way it looks in a casket.
Fact – Donated organs are removed surgically; donation does not change the appearance of the body for the funeral service.
Myth – My religion prohibits organ donation.
Fact – All major organized religions approve of organ and tissue donation and consider it an act of charity. Here’s how the process works. When a person’s physician determines that an organ transplant may be necessary, the patient is referred to a transplant center for evaluation.
The medical team at the transplant center determines whether a patient is a good candidate for transplantation; if the answer is yes, the patient is then added to the waiting list. When a deceased organ donor is identified, a transplant coordinator from an organ procurement organization accesses the computerized matching system. Each transplant candidate in the pool is matched by the computer against the donor characteristics.
The computer then generates a ranked list of patients, based on factors such as tissue match, blood type, medical urgency, and the distance between the potential recipient and the donor. Because of the number of variables that are considered and the ongoing shortage of donated organs, some patients may wait for many years before they receive an organ transplant.
Graham urges all people, no matter their age or medical history, to consider themselves as potential donors. It’s also vitally important, he adds, to discuss your decision with your family. “Fifty years ago organ failure was a death sentence. Today we can save lives at a rate we once only dreamed of. But only if the general public knows what a precious gift they have to give.” To find out how to become an organ donor in your state, visit www.donatelife.net. For more information on organ donation and transplantation, visit www.optn.org.
Is human organ donation right for you?