This month is a chance for us to celebrate those who have saved lives through the gift of organ and tissue donation and to encourage others to follow in their footsteps. Despite continuing efforts in educating the public, many misconceptions and inaccuracies about organ and tissue donations persist.
Here are the facts:
• More than 123,000 people are on the national organ waiting list. Every 10 minutes another name gets added to that list. Your decision to become an organ donor can save as many as eight lives, and directly improve the lives of as many as 50 others through tissue donation.
• Organs – heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver, and small intestine. Organ transplants are life-saving.
• Tissue – cornea, skin, bone, heart valves, blood vessels and tendons can help burn victims, and eye donations for sight-restoring cornea transplants give people the chance to lead a full, productive life.
According to the Midwest Transplant Network, current research indicates 98 percent of all adults have heard about organ donation, and 86 percent have heard of tissue donation. But while 90 percent of Americans say they support organ and tissue donation, only 30 percent know about the steps needed to become a donor. And, they are incredibly simple.
Since 1968, a documented decision to donate has been legally binding in Missouri, in the form of a signed donor card or the back of your driver’s license. What is new is that the state donor registry makes your wish legally binding. These so-called "first person authorization registries" uphold an individual’s right to make his or her decision regarding organ and tissue donation and that decision cannot be overturned or barred by another individual’s decision.
What stands in the way of a decision to become a donor? Mostly a number of myths, which continue to give many potential donors doubts about the process. Some of them include:
Myth: If I am in an accident, and the hospital knows I want to be a donor, they will withhold medical treatment and not attempt to save my life.
Fact: From a medical standpoint, patients must receive the most aggressive life-saving care in order to become potential donors. It is only after every attempt has been made to save your life that donation is even considered. That process is conducted by Midwest Transplant Network and securing donations is completed by separate teams of doctors and nurses not affiliated with the hospital.
Myth: Famous or rich people receive organ transplants first.
Fact: Priority depends solely on scientific and medical factors, including urgency, length of time on the waiting list, blood type, organ size and compatibility. Factors including race, gender, age, income, or celebrity status are never considered.
Myth: Donation disfigures the body and my loved one won't be able to have an open casket funeral if they are a donor.
Fact: Every donor is treated with great precision and dignity during the donation process, including careful reconstruction of one’s body. Surgery lines are fully covered by all clothing. Skin donation takes skin from the back and legs and in the case of bone donation, plastic replacements retain the original shape. Eye donations are also replaced by natural replicas to maintain the shape of the closed eyelid.
Myth: Organ donation will delay the funeral.
Fact: Typically the entire process takes less than 24 hours. While this seems a lengthy time, it rarely interferes with funeral arrangements.
Myth: You have to be young and healthy when you die to be a donor.
Fact: Donors range from the very young to the very old. People of all ages can, and should, consider themselves likely donors. You do need to be healthy in whatever age bracket. Few conditions, such as HIV/Aids and a history of cancer, can prevent you from becoming a donor.
Thursday, April 21, from 5 -7 p.m., St. Mary's Medical Center will host a Celebrate Donating Life function in our Memorial Garden. We will release 24 butterflies for each family member who has donated the gift of life over the past year. Many of those donations went to local recipients.
One final note, you can help make a difference in this cause even before your death. If you're a healthy live individual, you can always consider donating blood and bone marrow as well.
Angela Kenig is the manager of the Critical Care Department at St. Mary's Medical Center. To learn more about organ donation, call the Midwest Transplant Network at 913-262-1668.