The bumper sticker on the car in front of me read, “Don’t take your organs to heaven – heaven knows we need them here.” It got me thinking about my college roommate, who was a kidney transplant recipient.
After facing years of dialysis for a kidney condition with which he had been born, he received a cadaveric (from a deceased donor) kidney transplant. It transformed his life. He later became a physician. We have lost touch over the years, but I have no doubt that gift has enabled him to make a valuable contribution back to his community. In many ways, it was a gift of life.
In the United States, there are more than 100,000 people on the organ transplant waiting list. Each day, an average of 79 people receive organ transplants while an average of 18 people die waiting for a transplant that was not available.
Among the most common organs transplanted are kidney, heart, liver and lung. The medical science is sufficiently advanced that organ transplantation has become an acceptable treatment for organ failure, a condition that in years past had few if any treatment options. More than 70 percent of organ transplant recipients survive at least five years after most types of organ transplants.
Yet, despite all this, the gap between people on the transplant waiting list and available organs is widening. In short, there are too few donors available to meet the need. Organs donors can be living or deceased. Living donors can provide a kidney or a portion of the liver, lung or intestine. Deceased donors can provide six types of organs: kidney, pancreas, liver, lungs, heart and intestines, as well as various tissues. A single deceased donor can provide organs or tissues for up to eight recipients.
There are many myths surrounding organ donation that can discourage people to register as an organ donor. Some might be concerned that they are too old or too sick for their organs to be useful. Yet, organs have been successfully transplanted from 70- and 80-year-old donors.
Some may be concerned that organ-donor status will affect medical decision-making involving their own care or the provision of life-sustaining treatments. Some may be concerned about the consistency of organ donation with their religious beliefs. Other potential donors may even be concerned that organs will be “harvested” even before their death.
It should be known that the physicians involved in providing a patient’s medical care are not involved in the decision to use a potential donor’s organs. They function independently in the interest of their patient.
Determinations of death for potential organ and tissue donors are actually even more rigorous (at no additional cost) than in other circumstances. This includes documentation of brain death before organ use.
It is a fact that most major religions permit organ donation as consistent with their faith tradition.
If you are considering becoming an organ donor, all you have to do is mark the “yes” box when asked about your donor preference on your driver’s license application. You can also visit the Colorado donor registry at donatelifecolorado.org.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Health Center in Towaoc.