April is National Donate Life Month which helps to spread awareness for Organ, Eye, and Tissue Donation. I’ve worked in this field for many years and spent most of my career initiating the donation conversation with families. So in honor of National Donate Life Month, I’m going to provide education and bust some common myths surrounding donation.
- There are over 100,000 people waiting for lifesaving transplants.
- Every 9 minutes another person is added to the national transplant waiting list.
- 17 people die every day waiting for an organ transplant.
- 85% of patients are waiting for a kidney.
- Organ donors can save up to 8 lives.
- Organ donation includes heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, intestines, and pancreas.
- Cornea donors help restore sight in up to 2 people.
- Tissue donors save and enhance the lives of up to 75 people.
- Tissue donation includes skin grafts, heart valves, bones, ligaments, etc.
Myth: “There are more than enough organs and tissues to go around, they don’t need mine.”
Truth: Being able to be a donor is actually quite rare. This poses a problem because there are so many patients on the transplant waitlist and not enough organs to fulfill that need. If the above stats weren’t enough to prove that, let me throw another one at you: the average person is on the waitlist for 8-10 years. Also consider all the people who need a transplant but are too sick to even be put on the list in the first place. If we added them to the stats, the waitlist would at least double.
Myth: “The hospital will check and see if I am registered, and if I am, they won’t work as hard to save me.”
Truth: First and foremost, hospital staff are trained to keep their patients alive and will do the best they can to help you. The hospital never checks a person’s registry status. That only happens when the donation organization is consulted, and they are the ones who look up the patient in the registry.
Myth: “I have to be dead to be an organ donor.”
Truth: For organ donation, a patient must have a fatal injury that they will not be able to recover from that makes them dependent on a mechanical ventilator. In a lot cases, the patient still has a heart beat at the time of donation but has been pronounced brain dead. Tissue and cornea donation does take place once someone is pronounced dead and is no longer heart beating. People also have the opportunity be living donors and donate one of their kidneys or part of their liver to those who are waiting. You can find more information on living donation here: https://unos.org/transplant/living-donation/
Myth: “If my loved one donates, we won’t be able to have an open casket viewing.”
Truth: You will still be able to have any services that you wish. Donors are treated with the utmost respect and receive a full reconstruction after the recovery, so most times you cannot even tell someone is donor based on appearance alone.
Myth: “I am too old and sick to donate.”
Truth: There is no age limit to donation and very few direct medical rule outs. Trained professionals have to follow strict criteria and guidelines, so they will assess at the time of death or referral to see what may be able to be donated. Don’t count yourself out too quickly!
Myth: “The organs and tissues will be sold for profit or on the black market, they won’t really be helping people.”
Truth: It is illegal to buy and sell organs and tissues and most donation organization are non-profits. The process to match organs to right recipients using the transplant waitlist is very vigorous, and the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) ensures fairness and that everyone involved in the process is being held to high standards.
How to Donate:
- The most important thing you can do is talk with your family. Let them know that you want to be a donor, so when the time comes, there is no second guessing, and they can confidently make/support your decision to donate.
- Check your status at your state BMV: https://www.organdonor.gov/sign-up
- When you renew your license, let them know that you would like to be a donor so it shows up on your driver’s license.
Also check out this episode of the You Learn You Turn podcast: Kristen Tomlinson on Supporting Organ Donor Families.
Kristen Tomlinson is Director of Grief Support Services for Taylor’s Gift Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to emotionally supporting organ, eye, and tissue donor families. Their Kindred Hearts Program provides donor families a Caring Guide to support them through the complex grief that comes with losing someone and having them be able to save lives through organ and tissue donation.