Today in the U.S. more than 114,000 people are in need of an organ transplant. Even though 2017 was the biggest year in history for organ transplants, we still fell short – by a lot – with 34,768 transplants performed last year. In order for more people to benefit from a lifesaving organ transplant, we need more donors.
Organ donation is the process of giving an organ or a part of an organ to another person who has been diagnosed with organ failure. Both deceased and living organ donation begins with a person who recognizes an opportunity to save someone’s life. February 14th is National Donor Day, an observance day originally designated in 1998 to raise awareness for organ, eye, tissue, marrow, platelet and blood donation. In the United States, people aren’t required to be donors. They give of themselves because they have a strong desire to help others. Let’s learn more about the process for both living and deceased organ donation.
LIVING ORGAN DONATION
Living donation is a wonderful act of generosity and courage. People can donate part of their liver or one of their kidneys while they’re still living. Living donation not only saves the life of the recipient, it can also relieve pressure on the waiting list for others. We can break down the living donation process into six steps:
Consider and Discuss. Take time to think about living donation, learn everything you can about the process, and discuss with a trusted advisor. Discussing with another person might give you an outside opinion you haven’t considered. Consider the possible outcomes and make sure you understand the time commitment to go through the process.
Provide your Information to the Transplant Center. Some centers will record your information in a telephone call; some have an online form; some might send you paperwork to complete. At Mayo Clinic, our online questionnaire will provide our nurses with all the information they need to determine if you’re a potential living donor candidate.
Talk with Experts. The transplant center staff can answer your questions about the process and help ease concerns. Nurses and social workers are some of the first people you’ll speak to about your desire to donate. They become part of your transplant team when you decide to proceed to evaluation.
Tests and Examinations. As a potential donor, you’ll have an evaluation similar to that of the recipient. Bloodwork, radiology, and consultations with doctors, surgeons, social workers, and nurses will be just some of the testing and consultations you’ll undergo as part of your donor evaluation.
Surgery to Save a Life. Your surgery for kidney donation is typically a minimally invasive surgery that leaves you with small incisions and a relatively quick recovery. For liver donation, a portion of your liver is removed and given to the recipient. The liver regenerates to normal size within a few months after surgery.
Recovery. Most people are in the hospital from 2 to 7 days depending upon the organ they donated. You can expect to return to normal activities in 6-8 weeks after surgery. You’ll visit the clinic a few times after surgery and a few times after you have been sent home to be sure you’re recovering well.
DECEASED ORGAN DONATION
Signing up for deceased donation takes very little time and requires no preliminary physicals or doctor visits. There is no age limit for deceased donations. The planning on your part is simple and quick compared to living donation, and there are just a few steps for you to follow.
Discuss with Family. Your decision to donate is a personal one, but including your family is an important step. Letting your family know your wishes gives them peace of mind and eases their burden when you pass away.
Sign Up. You can sign up to be an organ donor in a couple of ways. First, when you get a new driver’s license or renew your license, you can sign up in most states through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Just check the box. It’s simple and could save a life. You can also sign up through Donate Life in your state. You can search Donate Life America for your state registry and fill out a simple form online to register, or you can simply go to Register Me to fill out the information quickly online. At the time of your death, doctors will determine if you’re able to be a donor and which organs you’re able to donate. You don’t need to re-enroll in the list or remove yourself from the list when you reach a certain age. You might be able to save a life no matter your circumstances.
Everyone has their own reason for signing up to save someone’s life. Maybe you know someone in need of transplant, maybe you’ve lost someone to organ failure or maybe you’re just a giving soul – no matter your reason, you’re contributing one of the greatest gifts someone can receive. Recipients of organs, tissue, blood and bone marrow often say they can never properly thank their donors for the gift of life. Some say the best way they can repay their donor is to live life to the fullest and take great care of the gift they were given. For donor families, often the opportunity to meet their loved one’s recipient and watch them live a full and happy life is the thanks they need to heal and move on in their time of grief.
Mayo Clinic shows gratitude to donors by making safety and quality of care for transplant recipients and donors our highest priority, and by being the best stewards of the gift that was given.
On this National Donor Day, please join us in thanking the thousands of donors, both deceased and living, who out of generosity and courage, have given the ultimate gift.
If you’re signed up to be a deceased organ donor or you have been a living organ donor, what can you say to teach others about donation?