Chocolates and flowers are great gifts for Valentine’s Day. But what if the gifts we’re giving this year could really be life changing? A gift that could save someone’s life or get them off dialysis?
You can. For people in need of an organ, tissue, or blood donation, a donor can give them a gift that is greater than the value of anything you can buy. For this reason, February 14th is not only Valentine’s Day, but also National Donor Day. During this time, health organizations nationwide sponsor blood donations and registrations for organ and tissue donations. Read on if you’ve ever wondered what can be donated, had reservations about donating your organs or tissues after death, or had concerns about the risks of becoming a living donor.
The enormous impact of organ, tissue or cell donation
It’s hard to overstate the impact donors can have on the lives of people whose organs are giving way. Imagine having kidney failure that requires dialyzing 12 or more hours per week to stay alive. Even so, you know that you will still likely die prematurely. If your liver is failing it can cause severe nausea, itching, and confusion. Death can only be a few weeks or months away. For those with cancer who need a bone marrow transplant or who have lost their eyesight due to corneal disease, finding a donor may be the only good option.
Organ or tissue donation can solve these problems and give recipients a chance for longevity, an improved quality of life, or both. Still, the number of people in need of organ donation far exceeds the number of compatible donors: about 90% of people in the US support organ donation, but only 60% sign up. An estimated 109,000 women, men and children are waiting for an organ transplant in the United States. Around 6,000 people die each year and are still waiting.
What can be donated?
The list of ways a donor can help someone in need has grown dramatically over the past few years. Some organs, tissues or cells can be donated during lifetime. other donations are only possible after death. A single donor can help up to 75 people!
Here is a list of the most commonly donated organs, tissues, and cells.
After death, people can donate
- Bones, cartilage and tendons
- Face and Hands (although unusual, they are the latest additions to this list)
- Heart and heart valves
Live donations can include
- Birth tissues such as the placenta, umbilical cord, and amniotic fluid, which can be used to heal skin wounds or ulcers and prevent infections
- Blood cells, serum, or bone marrow
- a kidney
- Part of a lung
- Part of the intestines, liver, or pancreas.
To learn more about different types of organ donation, visit Donate Life America.
Becoming a donor after death: questions and misunderstandings
Misconceptions about becoming an organ donor are widespread and limit the number of people willing to sign up. For example, many people mistakenly believe this
- Doctors will not work as hard to save your life if you are known as an organ donor, or worse, doctors will remove organs before death
- Your religion forbids organ donation
- You can’t have an open coffin funeral if you donate your organs.
None of this is true, and none should prevent you from becoming an organ donor. Legitimate medical professionals always focus on the patient’s interests. Care would never be compromised by a person’s choice in relation to organ donation. Most major religions allow and support organ donation. When organ donation occurs after death, the clothed body shows no outward signs of organ donation. Therefore, an open coffin funeral is an option for organ donors.
The experience of being a living donor
There is little or no risk when you donate blood. Other donations come at real risk. Surgery to donate a kidney carries the risk of complications, reactions to anesthesia, and significant recovery time. It is no small matter to give a kidney or part of a lung or liver.
Bone marrow donation requires minor surgery. With general anesthesia there is a possibility of a reaction to the anesthesia. Because the bone marrow is removed by needles inserted into the back of the pelvic bones on each side, back or hip pain is common. This can be controlled with pain relievers. The body quickly replaces the removed bone marrow so long-term problems are not expected.
Stem cells are found in the bone marrow. They also appear in low numbers in the blood and can be donated through a process similar to donating blood. This takes about seven or eight hours. Filgrastim, a drug used to increase stem cell production, is given a few days beforehand. It can cause side effects like flulike symptoms, bone pain, and fatigue, but they go away soon after the procedure.
The large number of living organ donations occur without complications, and donors tend to be very positive about the experience.
Who can donate?
Almost anyone can be an organ, tissue, or blood cell donor. Exceptions are people with active cancer, widespread infections, or organs that are not healthy.
What about age Your age alone does not disqualify you from organ donation. In 2019, around a third of organ donors were over 50 years old. People in their 90s donated organs and saved the lives of others after they died. However, bone marrow transplants can fail more often when the donor is older. Therefore, bone marrow donation is usually avoided by people over the age of 55 or 60.
Finding a Good Match: Immune Compatibility
For many transplants, the best results occur when there is immune compatibility between the donor and recipient. Compatibility is largely based on HLA typing, in which genetically determined proteins on the surface of most cells are analyzed. These proteins help the immune system identify which cells qualify as foreign or self. Foreign cells trigger an immune attack; Cells identified as self should not do so.
HLA typing can be done through a blood test or a cheek swab. Close relatives usually have the best HLA matches, but complete strangers can also be a good match.
Fewer donors in people with certain HLA types make it more difficult to find a match. Existing health differences, such as For example, higher kidney disease rates among Black Americans and color communities may be exacerbated by fewer donors from these communities. This inequality is partly due to a lack of trust in the medical system.
The final result
As National Donor Day approaches, think about the impact you can have as a donor, whether it be during your life or after you die. The US requires you to register as a donor, unlike some countries where anyone is considered an organ donor unless they specifically choose to. Research suggests that an opt-out approach could significantly increase organ donation in this country, but there doesn’t seem to be any movement in that direction at the moment.
I hope organ donation in the US and around the world will increase over time. While you can still take chocolates with you for Valentine’s Day, maybe this year you can grow bigger and become donors too. Let me know what you choose – and why.
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