Several years ago when I worked at the nursing home, one of our residents asked for information on how he could become an organ donor. I must confess that I wrongly assumed he was too old. Thankfully, one of our social workers put him and his wife in contact with someone from an organ donation organization. When he died two years later, he was able to donate bone tissue to improve the lives of other people.
Like me, most people believe there is a cut-off age where a person can no longer become an organ donor after death. In reality, the ability to donate is based on medical criteria & not on age. (The oldest recorded donor I could find was a 92-year-old man whose liver was donated to a 69-year-old woman after he died of a brain hemorrhage.) It’s important to remember, too, that even though some of a person’s organs may not be healthy enough to donate, they may have other tissues (such as bone or corneas) that are usable.
Organ donation is a sensitive subject. While I wouldn’t suggest approaching someone about signing up to be a donor, I think it’s important that we have a basic understanding of the process in case someone brings it up.
Here’s why we should be organ donors:
- Over 120,000 people in the United States are waiting for organs.
- Every day 21 people die because they didn’t receive an organ in time.
- One donor can potentially save or improve the lives of over 50 people.
- While 95% of Americans believe organ donation is a good idea, only 54% are registered donors.
How to make your wishes known:
- Register as a donor on RegisterMe.org. Here you can specify which organs or tissues you are willing to donate. You have the right to change your mind at any time.
- Let your family know your wishes. If you have someone designated to make healthcare decisions for you if you become incapacitated, be sure to let them know, too. Your family will not be responsible for any costs related to your gift of organ donations. If you’re not registered as a donor, your next of kin also has the ability to make this decision.
- Indicate your desire to be a donor when you renew your driver’s license. Time is crucial when retrieving organs for donation, and this immediately lets emergency and medical professionals know of your wishes.
What is the process of organ donation?
- It’s important to understand that in order to donate major organs such as the heart, pancreas, or liver, death needs to occur in a hospital where mechanical means are available to keep organs supplied with blood. This usually means the death occurred as a result of an acute condition such as a cardiac arrest, traumatic brain injury (such as in a car accident), or a brain aneurysm. However, other tissues such as bone, corneas, or tendons may be donated without mechanical support.
- Upon death, the regional Organ Procurement Organization for your area needs to be notified. They will determine which, if any, organs or tissues are medically appropriate for donation. This organization keeps a database listing all the people in the United States who are waiting for transplants. A special computer program will match the donor with the best recipients. Criteria include such things as blood type, body size, and urgency of need.
- If the donor is on mechanical support, brain death is confirmed by the absence of brain activity and the inability of the person to breathe on their own. This means the condition is irreversible and the donor has physically died.
- A special surgical team removes the donated organs and tissues, and they are quickly transported to waiting recipients. All incisions are surgically closed, and the body is treated with the utmost respect.
After the donation:
- The family of the donor can proceed with a funeral. Transplant surgeons are careful not to disfigure the body, and an open casket funeral can be held if this is desired.
- The family receives basic information about the people who received the organs. After a standard waiting period, there is also an option for the family to make contact with a recipient if both parties are in agreement.
Are you interested in giving the gift of organs or tissues to save or improve the life of someone after you’re gone? You’ll find lots of great information at this site: organdonor.gov
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