The Importance of Organ Donation

Ten minutes is a very short amount of time. In 10 minutes, you might be able to go for a short walk, clear out your email inbox, or maybe even have a quick telephone conversation with a friend. In fact, you’ll probably be done reading this within the next 10 minutes.

In those same 10 minutes, someone in the US will be added to the transplant waiting list.

The number of people on the waiting list keeps getting longer, while the number of donors lags significantly behind.

By registering as an organ donor, you have the chance to save and improve up to 75 people’s lives. But while nearly all adults in the US support organ donation, only 54% of US adults are actually signed up to be organ donors.

Becoming an organ donor is more than just checking a box when you renew your driver’s license — it’s making the decision that you want to potentially save someone’s life.

    Organ Donation in the US

  1. Over 114,000 men, women, and children are on the national transplant waiting list.
  2. 20 people die each day waiting for an organ.
  3. In 2017, nearly 35,000 transplants were performed.
  4. Every day, about 80 people receive an organ transplant.
  5. In 2018, 17,500 people donated organs, tissues, and eyes.

Here what’s you should know about organ donation and becoming an organ donor.

Organ Donation Is About More Than Hearts, Lungs, and Kidneys

Many people think of heart, lung, and kidney transplants when they think of organ donation, but there are a number of organs and tissues that can be donated:

  • Organs such as the kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, pancreas, and intestines
  • Corneas (the outermost layer of your eyes, which allows you to focus your vision)
  • Tissues such as heart valves, skin, bone, and tendons
  • Hands and face
  • Blood stem cells, cord blood, and bone marrow
  • Blood and platelets

Nearly Everyone Is a Potential Organ Donor

You might think you’re not eligible to become a donor, maybe because of an illness or your age. But there are only a few health conditions that will prohibit you from being a donor, such as active cancer, an infection in your bloodstream, or HIV.

Also, a donor’s age doesn’t matter — newborns to senior citizens have all been donors. In fact, the oldest donor in the US was 93 years old. Your health and the condition of your organs are what matter.

If you’re over 18, you can register to be an organ donor. You can also choose what you want to donate — organs, eyes, and/or tissue — and you can change that at any time.

If you’re under 18, you can still register. However, your family will still have the final say regarding donation.

Registering to Become a Donor

Before registering, you should be confident in your decision to become a potential donor. This is a very personal decision, and you should not feel pressured either way.

If you decide to sign up to become a donor, registering is easy — and it’s the only way to ensure that your organs will be considered for donation.

In Kansas, you can become a donor by:

  • Registering online through Donate Life Kansas
  • Signing up at your local DMV
  • Calling 1-888-744-4531 to request a paper copy of the registration form
  • Indicating your wish to become a donor in your advance directive or living will

Learn about becoming an organ donor in your state.

Registering may take minutes, but the impact can last a lifetime.

Sometimes, people are hesitant to become organ donors because they think it will cause too much trauma to their family and loved ones. If you do decide to become a donor, have a conversation with them. Explain why you made your decision, and assure them that your body will always be treated with care, respect, and dignity.

Keep in mind that there is no cost to donors or their families. You are providing a life-saving organ, and the organ donor organizations will make the process as easy as possible for everyone involved.

The Donation Process

Donation After Death

In most cases, if you come to the hospital because of an illness, a stroke, or an accident, such as severe head trauma, you can be put on life support. This will keep blood flowing to your organs in order to keep them alive.

It’s important to remember that whether or not you are a donor is not a factor at this point. The medical team will still do everything in their power to save your life.

If your medical team is unable to save you, they will confirm brain death — a condition where the brain is totally and irreversibly non-functional. Only at this point are your organs eligible for donation. Patients in a coma are not considered eligible, as you can still recover from a coma.

Living Donation

Some organs and tissues can be donated while you are still alive. Nearly 6,000 living donations take place each year. Usually, living donations occur between family members or close friends. Sometimes, people choose to donate to someone they don’t know in order to save their life.

Living donors can donate:

  • One of two kidneys
  • One of two lobes of the liver
  • A lung or part of the lung, part of the pancreas, or part of the intestines
  • Skin after surgeries such as abdominoplasty (the removal of excess fat and skin from the abdomen)
  • Bone after knee and hip replacements
  • Healthy cells from bone marrow and umbilical cord blood
  • The amniotic sac after childbirth
  • Blood, including white and red blood cells, platelets, and the serum that carries blood cells throughout your circulatory system

These organs can all be safely donated. Some organs you can live without, such as one of your kidneys, and others will grow back, such as your liver or blood.

You’ll need to undergo a complete evaluation before becoming a living donor. Living donors should be in good health and between 18 and 60 years of age. They should also not have — or have had in the past — diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or heart disease.

Medical expenses associated with the donation, such as the surgery itself and the acquisition fee to receive the organ, are covered by the recipient’s insurance or, in some cases, the Transplant Centers Organ Acquisition Fund (OAF).

Anything that falls outside of the medical expense category, such as travel, lodging, and lost wages, is not covered by insurance. Sometimes, the recipient will choose to cover these costs. Be sure to talk to your insurance company or a transplant financial coordinator to confirm any expenses related to your specific circumstances. It can also be helpful to talk to your employer about taking time off or working from home after the procedure.

The Matching Process

Both donations after death and living donation require the recipient and donor to be a match. There are some common factors in the matching process — such as blood type and how long the patient has been on the waiting list — but other factors are more important depending on the organ that’s being donated.

For instance, hearts and lungs can’t survive outside the body as long as kidneys, so the geographical distance between the donor and the recipient may be a factor in whether or not an organ is a match for someone in need.

Matching factors include:

  • Blood type
  • Body size
  • The medical condition of the recipient
  • Distance between the donor and recipient’s hospitals
  • Amount of time recipient has spent on the waiting list

The matching process makes it so that the recipient’s body is able to accept the new organ. However, it narrows the number of people that patients can receive an organ from.

If there are more registered donors, there is a higher chance that someone in need of an organ will find a match in order to save their life.

At Stormont Vail Health, donations are coordinated through the Midwest Transplant Network and the Kansas Eye Bank. Donors and their families are honored and celebrated as their choice to impact the lives of many around the world is an important one.

Do you still have questions about organ donation? Call (785) 270-4440 to set up an appointment with a Stormont Vail primary care provider to discuss organ donation or register online to become a donor.

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