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Donate Life: Organ Donation and Transplantation

The Gift of Life

The Gift of Life

It’s National Donate Life Month, and a time to increase awareness about organ and tissue donation. I am using this opportunity to implore readers to be organ donors.

It’s personal for me. In 2010, my stepson gave the ultimate gift of one of his kidneys to his brother’s wife. Although related by marriage to the person he was donating to, they weren’t especially close. However, he watched as my daughter-in-law (and new mom) struggled with dialysis. My stepson and father of two, was moved to help.

Donating upon death is an easy process. You register your wishes, and tell those close to you that you want to donate. It’s painless, because you are dead.

However, it’s a big deal to donate an organ when you are alive. The surgery is usually harder on the donor than on the recipient. The recovery is lengthy. There can be a significant loss of income. The family is affected, especially if they’ve never seen their healthy loved on in a hospital.  My stepson sucked up arthritic pain for a year prior to the transplant, daring not to risk kidney damage with over-the-counter pain relievers.

Afterwards, you are given a hero’s welcome, but most live donors that I’ve known, including my stepson, are humble people. They don’t want to be heroes; they just want to do the right thing. And so, my stepson quietly healed.

My daughter-in-law lost the kidney last year. It was the second donated kidney that failed, having received a kidney from her mother in 2004. That one lasted until the birth of our grandson in 2008. I am not doing her story justice, so if you are curious, you can read more about Lizz here: More Than Thursdays. She is a fantastic blogger, and just about anyone will find something interesting on her blog. Plus you can see photos of my adorable grandson.

Back to organ donation. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (OPTN), there are more than 115,000 patients on the transplant waiting list. As of this week, slightly more than 5400 transplants have occurred, using organs from 2666 donors.  To put it another way, for every 50 people who need organs, there is roughly one donor or two organs.

Live organ donation is most commonly done using a kidney, a part of a liver, and bone marrow. Lung, pancreas and intestine transplant using live organs are possible, but rarely done. The first live organ donation occurred in 1954.

There are risks for living donors, such as:

  • Anesthesia risks.
  • Surgical complications such as blood loss, blood clots, infection, pain.
  • Death.

Even the medical evaluation involves some risks. There are the usual risks associated with the procedure; the same is true for blood draws for laboratory testing and other diagnostic procedures. Potential donors may have an allergic reaction to some of the dyes used during abdominal imaging studies. There is the risk that another disease will be uncovered, although if something is detected early because of the evaluation, this could be beneficial to the potential donor. If the disease is something infectious that must be reported to the local health agency, this may bring unexpected consequences.

Another risk is that tests may uncover family secrets. An adult child may discover that the father he wanted to donate an organ to is not his biological parent. This can lead to a cascade of events beyond what anyone could predict.

There may be financial risks or hardship to the donor. In some cases, life insurance or long-term care policies may be denied or canceled, so this needs to be checked out prior to donation. If donation presents a financial hardship for the donor, there are funds for those who qualify. For more information, see the link at the end of this article for National Living Donor Assistance.

If you or someone you know is considering living organ donation, spend time research the various transplant programs. Even transplant centers that have experienced a death of one of the donors may still be a good choice if they have performed many of these procedures. Transplant centers keep records of their success rates and you have the right to this information.

Being a living donor is not for everyone. However, I hope everyone considers being a donor upon death. There are more than 115,000 people waiting to live a healthier life.

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