Curious About Becoming an Organ Donor?
April is National Donate Life Month. During this month, Americans are encouraged to register as donors to honor those who have saved lives through the gift of organ donation. Let me tell you why this is so important.
More than 107,000 children and adults in the United States were anxiously waiting for organ transplants as of February 2021, per the Department of Health and Human Services. The largest group was 91,010 people who needed a kidney transplant. Liver transplants were needed by 11,862, and 3,534 waited for heart transplants. Every nine minutes, another person is added to the national transplant list. Unfortunately, every day 17 people on the list die while waiting. Clearly, donors remain in short supply relative to the need.
These sobering statistics point to the dire need for more of us to become organ donors. Sadly, while 90% of adults in the country support organ donation, only about 50% of us are signed up to donate our organs and give others a second chance at life.
In the United States, the most transplanted organs are the kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, pancreas and intestines. One donor can save up to nine lives. Organs such as the kidneys and lungs can be transplanted into more than one person. The liver can also be split and transplanted into two people as well.
What are some of the common concerns?
Misinformation is rampant, and it really hurts the cause of organ donation. Let’s fight back with the facts. Some believe those who donate organs after death cannot have open-casket funerals; this is not true. All surgical incisions are carefully closed and are not visible in an open casket. There is also a fear that registered donors will receive lower quality medical care so organs can be donated; this is false. The medical team trying to save your life is separate from the transplant team. Patients are treated by their own medical teams whose only purpose is to save your life. In fact, the transplant team is only notified someone is a potential donor after every effort has been made to save your life.
To alleviate financial concerns, let’s talk about who pays the bills. The costs of organ donation will not show up on a deceased patient’s hospital bill. All costs that are part of the donation are paid by the transplant recipients, usually through their private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.
Some believe that organ donation is against certain religious teachings. Actually, organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most major religions, including Roman Catholicism, Islam, most branches of Judaism and most Protestant faiths. If you have doubts, please reach out to your clergy to clarify your faith's position on organ donation.
What about organ donation among ethnic minorities?
Minorities including African Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and Hispanics are more likely than white people to need transplants. They also have a harder time finding a match. While everyone should think about becoming a donor and talk to their families, it’s especially important to consider donation if you belong to an ethnic minority. These ethnic minorities have certain chronic conditions that commonly affect the kidneys, heart, lung, pancreas and liver. Certain blood types are more prevalent in ethnic minority populations, creating a high need for minority organ donors. In most cases, a matching blood type is necessary for transplants to occur.
Almost anyone can become an organ donor. Donors with infections like hepatitis B and C currently can donate. There is also no age cutoff to be a donor. Rarely, conditions such as actively spreading cancer or severe infections could disqualify would-be donors. Those wishing to donate organs can register with the state’s organ procurement agency or by filling out an organ donor card when getting a driver's license renewal. Please join me in becoming a registered organ donor and giving the gift of life!
Learn more about becoming an organ donor.