Happy April everyone! April is National Donate Life Month in an effort to raise awareness about organ donation.
With each passing day, more and more people are placed on the organ transplant waiting list and, unfortunately, many people die waiting. There is a severe shortage of donors.
The U.S. Government Information on Organ Donation and Transplantation estimates that 95% of U.S. adults support organ donation but only 54% are registered as donors. Why is this? The answer is multifaceted. Some people are simply uncomfortable about thinking about death. Some might be reluctant because a family member received less-than-optimal end of life care. There are people who just don’t trust doctors or the medical system. Others have religious reasons.
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about organ donation that prevents people from registering to donate. Let’s get down to the real facts about organ donation and separate true from false.
Statistics regarding organ donation
- There are currently 114,843 total waiting list candidates who are eligible for organ transplant
- On average, 20 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant
- One organ donor can save 8 lives
- Only 3 in 1,000 people die in a way that makes organ donation possible
- The most common type of transplant performed is a kidney transplant, making up approximately 30% of transplants performed
Myth #1 I am too old or sick to donate my organs
Actually, there are very few medical conditions which prohibit you from being an organ donor (example: HIV, widespread infection or cancer). A doctor makes the final call regarding someone’s eligibility to be an organ donor.
Additionally, age is not much of a factor as there is no age limit. Skin, tissues, and corneas can be donated when other organs are not healthy enough to be used.
Myth #2 If my doctor knows I’m an organ donor, he or she won’t work as hard to save my life
This is a really common misconception.
If you come into the hospital in dire condition, the medical team is going to do everything to save your life. They are not thinking about saving someone else’s life. Also, they will not know whether or not you have registered to donate.
Organ donation only comes into discussion when someone is clinically and legally deemed to be brain dead.
Myth #3 I am not really dead when my organs are donated
Much of the time, organ donation involves a person who is brain dead though their heart is still beating. An organ that is retrieved after cardiac death is not as safe to transplant.
The concept of brain death can be difficult to understand. Brain death is not the same thing as a coma. Someone can (possibly) recover from a coma while one cannot recover from brain death. Many tests to definitively confirm brain death are performed.
Learn more about the deceased donation process and how organs are procured and matched here.
Myth #4 I cannot donate my organs until I die
Did you know that you can donate your kidney and liver while you are still alive?
You only need one kidney to live. Also, you can donate half of your liver and it will regenerate on its own within a few months (super cool!).
Live donor organ donations are becoming more and more common due to the shortage of available organs for transplant.
You can donate your kidney or liver to a family member in need or you can donate it to an unrelated friend or stranger (an altruistic donation).
Live donors and their recipients are matched by blood type, body size, and other factors.
Extensive medical testing and questioning are involved before someone is deemed fit to be a donor. The donor must be physically and mentally cleared. The transplant team makes sure that you are aware of the risks and aren’t donating for financial gain.
If you are serious about being a live donor, contact your local transplant center to start the process.
Myth #5 Rich and famous people can pay to get to the top of the transplant list
Nope, the transplant waiting list and fair to everyone no matter their race, social status, or income.
Organ allocation takes many factors into consideration such as blood type, time spent waiting, the severity of illness, distance from the transplant center, among others.
There is a national computer system that matches donors with recipients and uses only the necessary information.
Myth #6 My religion does not support organ donation
Most major religions support organ donation as a final act of compassion and generosity.
In general, organ donation is supported by Roman Catholicism, Islam, most Protestant faiths, and most branches of Judaism.
If you are unsure about your religion’s stance on organ donation, speak with a member of your clergy.
How can I register to donate?
First, make sure that your family knows of your wishes to donate in case they would need to make a decision.
Next, make sure you designate your choice on your driver’s license when you renew.
Finally, you can register with the National Donate Life Registry. This will ensure that your decision stays with you wherever you go. Head to RegisterMe.org to get started.
Hopefully, I have cleared up some of the misconceptions you have heard about organ donation.
Now that you have the facts, go get registered to donate! You have the potential to save a lot of lives. Besides, you’re not going to need those organs in the afterlife, right? 😉