The Importance of Being an Organ Donor

Every day someone faces the painful decision of whether to withdraw life support from a loved one who can no longer survive on their own. Click here for more information Maybe an accident has damaged them beyond repair, and even highly advanced medical care isn’t enough to sustain life. Will family members have the information they need to make these heart-rending decisions? What would their loved one have wanted? Did they leave instructions about what to do if the unthinkable should happen? Will the family be able to offer the gift of life to someone else in this most painful moment of saying goodbye to someone dear to them?

Why you should consider it

At this very moment there are thousands of people whose lives hang in the balance as they wait for a suitable organ to be donated, and thousands more are added to the waiting list each day. According to Donate Life America, there are approximately 114,000 people on the organ waiting list with another name being added every ten minutes. Nearly 2000 of these are children. Whether it’s a heart, liver, kidney, lungs or other organ, there will be people who die every day waiting for an organ that never comes. There are always far fewer organ donors than people who are in need of an organ, and depending on which organ is needed, patients can wait months or even years for an acceptable organ to become available. This means that, for many patients, the wait is just too long for them to hang on.

What diseases can be remedied by an organ replacement?

There are many diseases that can cause end-stage organ failure, like cystic fibrosis, coronary heart disease, polycystic kidney disease, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and these can occur in both adults and children. In addition, some of these organ-destroying illnesses occur with greater frequency in certain ethnic and racial populations, making the need for donors in those populations especially great.

Who donates?

The majority of organ donations are from deceased persons with a much smaller number coming from living donors who are an acceptable match for the person in need of a transplant, but most people, regardless of age can be an organ donor. Most organ donations come from people with severe and irreversible brain injuries or aneurisms, and just one deceased donor can save as many as eight lives according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In addition to life-saving transplants, there are millions more people who receive other tissue transplants each year that help them to recover from critical burns and other trauma, or help to restore their sight. Organ donation is a life-saving gift to someone who is critically ill because of a failing organ, and the success rate of transplants is between 80 and 90 percent.

How to start the process

The best time to start the process of becoming a donor is to have the discussion with family members about what to do in an end-of-life situation is long before that dreaded day arrives. No one likes to think about the possibility of losing their life or the life of a loved one. Most people, when asked, however, say that they would like their organs to be donated if they should become unable to survive. While knowing this might be a guideline for those responsible for making the final decision, the only way to assure that the person’s wishes will be honored is to sign an Advance Directive, also called a Living Will. This is a simple process that will remove the burden of the decision from family members. No matter how committed a family is to organ donation, standing at a loved one’s bedside and giving the “okay” to that final goodbye is going to be painful and difficult and sometimes filled with “what ifs.” So, drawing up an Advance Directive can be a huge gift to loved ones as well as to those on the transplant lists whose lives will depend on it. Also, each state has its own donor registry and individuals can often sign up when they renew their driver’s license.

Costs of becoming a donor

There is absolutely no cost to donors or their families, and in the case of a deceased donor, they are treated with the utmost respect. All major religions approve of donation as a final gift of love and generosity to those who are desperately clinging to life and waiting for a stranger to reach out and save them. It’s the act of a hero.