In the time it takes you to read this article, another person will be added to a waiting list, hoping to receive a life-saving organ from a complete stranger—someone who believes in passing along the gift of life. Organ transplantation has become a long-accepted medical treatment for end-stage organ failure, but the truth is, there are just not enough organ donors. Today, about 80 people will receive an organ transplant that will likely prolong their life by many years; but, 22 others, on average, will die from lack of an available organ. One thing to remember is that each number represents a life—a mom, dad, brother, sister or child—someone who is important to someone else. Maybe even you.
Each April, Donate Life America and its partnering organizations celebrate National Donate Life Month, by encouraging Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and to celebrate those who have saved lives through their gift of donation. Despite advances in medicine and technology, and increased awareness of organ donation and transplantation, the gap between supply and demand continues to widen. The number of people on the national waiting list continues to grow at a faster rate than those registering to be donors. As you read this, nearly 119,000 men, women and children await organ transplants in the United States. Approximately 8,000 deaths occur yearly in the U.S. because organs are not donated in time.
That number is a little brighter than it appears. Each donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation. It’s not just major organs that help in this struggle. One tissue donor can enhance the lives of up to 50 people.
- Tissue – Corneas, the middle ear, skin, heart valves, bone, veins, cartilage, tendons and ligaments can be stored in tissue banks and used to restore sight, cover burns, repair hearts, replace veins and mend damaged connective tissue and cartilage in recipients.
- Blood and platelets – You can donate blood and platelets more than once. It is safe to donate blood every 56 days and platelets every four weeks.
- Stem cells – Healthy adults between the ages of 18-60 can donate blood stem cells.
According to the Health and Human Services (HHS), its most recent data from 2014 shows there were a little over 2.6 million deaths in the U.S. that year. Imagine if even half of those persons had donated. Why don’t we donate more? Many myths about organ donation still exist:
- “I’m too young or too old to donate.”
Fact: You’re never too old to be a donor. If you’re under 18, you would need your family’s permission.
- “I’m not in the best of health. Nobody would want my organs or tissues.”
Fact: The decision to use your organs is based on strict medical criteria, not age. All must come through an organ procurement organization, like Midwest Transplant Network, with whom St. Mary’s Medical Center connects donors and recipients.
- “If the hospital knows I’m an organ donor the staff won’t work as hard to save my life.”
Fact: When you go to the hospital for treatment, doctors and nurses focus on saving your life, not somebody else’s.
- “An open-casket funeral isn’t an option for donors.”
Fact: Organ and tissue donation does not prolong nor interfere with having an open-casket funeral.
- “Organ donation is against my religion.”
Fact: Organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most major religions and viewed as the final act of love and generosity
- “My family will be charged if I donate my organs.”
Fact: Donation costs nothing to the donor’s family or estate.
- “Mostly rich and famous people go to the top of the list when they need a donor organ.”
Fact: While publicity may lead you to believe otherwise, celebrities are treated no differently from anyone else in regards to the waiting list
While 90 percent of Americans say they support donation, only 30 percent know the steps needed to become a donor. You can change this today by joining the organ, eye and tissue donor registry at your local Department of Motor Vehicles or online at YesTheyWantMe.com. While you’re at it, encourage others to do so as well.