Posted: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 12:04 pm | Updated: 3:53 pm, Wed Jun 5, 2013.
By Donald Allen Dallen1911@yahoo.com
How many of you have ever gone for breakfast, lunch, dinner or drinks with someone you barely knew? Ever helped a motorist stranded on the side of the road?
Ok, summer is approaching. Plan on riding that new ride at Six Flags, or an old one? Do you have any earthly idea of who’s controlling that ride with your life in their hands? Where is this going? Well, it’s pretty amazing how we so easily subject our living, breathing body and all of its parts to unknown outcomes, even potentially life-threatening outcomes, but when afforded the opportunity to allow an unfortunately “expired” body the privilege of saving the life of someone you don’t know, it’s a difficult choice to make.
Organ donation is a risk-free choice you can now make without even leaving your home.
Pam Silvestri is the Public Affairs Director for Southwest Transplant Alliance (STA) and Donate Life Texas Registry. STA is a local, non-profit organ and tissue donor program that serves hospitals and patients alike throughout the majority of Texas. This organization was founded in 1974 and is one of the largest of 58 federally designated organ procurement organizations in the United States.
At a state level, the Donate Life Texas Registry provides Texans the opportunity to officially and legally register to become organ and tissue donors. Now back to Silvestri.
Having been in organ donation for 18 years, Silvestri has seen the science made simpler.
“The Registry started in 2006 and the immediate difference it made is that if you took the time to register, either when you get your driver’s license or by going online, then now you are legally and officially an organ donor. Now before 2006, there was no place to legally sign up. You could sign a donor card and those types of things, but none of them really mattered because your family still had to make that decision,” explained Silvestri. “What the Registry does is it takes the burden off of your family. So if I took the time to register and then I died, my family would not have to try to figure out what I want because I would already be a donor. That truly makes it easier for families at a time when they are already experiencing a really difficult loss because they don’t have to figure out what’s already been done for them, giving them one less thing to be concerned about.”
Speaking of being concerned, here is a little data that one might want to consider.
On a national level, there are well over 100,000 people awaiting an organ transplant.
On a state level, there are more than 10,000 Texans in line for an organ. While more than 30,000 people a year do receive their much-needed organs, approximately 18 people die each day before the organ that they need becomes available. Every 10 minutes, another name is added to the national transplant waiting list. Although public opinion polls show that 80% of people are aware of donation and believe that it is a good thing to do, many people still do not take the time to officially register, as stated before, leaving hesitant, unprepared family to “make the call”. Although Silvestri said she personally sees no good reason or “earthly idea” why a family member would not make the call to donate, she does recognize some myths out there that may cause families not to decide.
“I think people make assumptions about not being able to have a funeral because the body will be mutilated. Not true. Also, many think that families pay for organ donation and there is absolutely no truth to that either. For example, they’ll say ‘I want to register but how much will it cost my family?’ and we’ll say ‘nothing’ and explain the process.
The only way someone can be a donor is if they pass away in a hospital on a ventilator and most people won’t pass away under these circumstances; but if they do, the hospital calls us, we look up the person’s name on the registry and if they’re registered, we don’t have to ask the family for permission. In the event they are not registered, we talk to the family for permission. Once there is authorization for donation from the registered person himself or the family, there are no costs to the family. Lastly, when the person is pronounced dead, we start working on organ donation assuming all costs and ultimately passing costs along to the people receiving organs and their insurance companies.”
Note: Silvestri clarified any costs accrued in trying to save the donor are the family’s.
As education is believed to be the best weapon against mis-education, here are some of the facts, not myths on organ donation as provided by Texas Donor Registry website.
Anyone can register to be a donor but you do have to meet suitable criteria to be a donor.
When you sign the registry, you have provided legal authorization to be a donor.
Donor cards are no longer needed or used as everything is now accessed in the registry.Someone who has been a recipient of an organ may still be eligible to be an organ donor. Although you are ineligible as a blood donor, you still may be an eligible organ donor. People of all ages and medical histories should consider themselves as potential donors. People of all ages and medical histories should consider themselves as potential donors. You have the right to indicate which organs/tissues you wish to donate when registering. A single donor can save or enhance the lives of up to 50 people.
As Silvestri has been in this field since the 90’s, she is pleased to say that she has seen a lot of growth in minority donation, but she recognizes that there is still room for more.
“About 15 or 16 years ago, minority donation rates were very low, so at the time we encouraged minorities to donate through public information, talked to families in hospitals and what happened is that minority donation rates have increased tremendously,” stated Silvestri. “That being said, of the over 100,000 people waiting for organs, nearly 100,000 of that number are waiting for kidneys and the vast majority on that list are minorities. Since they are overrepresented on the list, we want minorities to know kidneys not only are matched by body size and blood group, but also by antigens. Usually antigens that are similar are found in people similar in ethnic backgrounds, so it’s a good idea to come out and support the people like you and like your community.”
She also noted that within Texas, donation rates among Latino families are actually higher than the donation rates among Caucasian families. “We have hired over the last 15 years many, many more bilingual people who actually approach families because we used to have people like me approach families, people who were Caucasian and didn’t speak another language. We’d bring in translators which made our consent rates very low because we weren’t treating them the way we needed to,” Silvestri recalled. “If your preferred language is Spanish and we try to talk to you in English about something that is very important, you might not trust us. We didn’t know what the translator would say, so it may not have been supportive. So we had to make our staff reflected our community and spoke in languages the community was comfortable with. Once we established that, it was amazing what happened next. The consent rates went straight through the roof!”
She said another essential element was the relationship between agencies and hospitals.
“Once the hospitals call us early and we’re able to take good care of the family while they’re going through this crisis, it helps them to want to donate,” Silvestri conveyed.
“The worst thing is a family being told their loved one has passed away and then being asked in that same breath, ‘by the way, would you like to donate organs?’.
The process has to be more family-friendly and give them more time to let it sink in.” Another factor some may consider in potentially becoming an organ donor is religion.
There is the belief that this act may go against various faiths. Silvestri addresses this.
“The Jehovah’s Witnesses have an issue with blood transfusions but even they have come out and said that as long as the organs are drained of blood, they have no problem giving or receiving organs. In the Jewish community, part of the Jewish law says that if you are in a position to save a life, you must. Jewish leaders are actually telling their congregations that it’s not question of should you but that if you’re in that position, you have to save other people,” revealed Silvestri. “When we talked to people of the Catholic and Christian faith, they say this is the most Jesus-like thing you can do because you’re laying down your life for your brother. It’s very Christ-like. The original transplant in the Bible was Adam and Eve with the rib. When we talk to preachers, pastors and rabbis, we find that they very much so support donation and they go into the congregation and tell their congregants that donation is something that is very good and no reason not to do it.” Going on nearly two decades in the field, Silvestri still remembers her first donation case.
“The first person I ever met that got a transplant was a little boy who was one year old and he got a heart transplant on his first birthday. Sadly, another baby had to pass away for that to be possible,” Silvestri recalled. “A year later I got to watch the two families meet each other and there were no words for it. This was a family who had lost their baby meeting the family whose baby was alive because they had made the decision to donate.
Even better, the one year old boy is now 18, graduated from high school and going to college. The donor family has been a part of the recipient family all those years, through high school graduation, kept in touch with each other and watched this child grow up.
It’s not about a heart, lung or liver; but people helping people, families helping families.”
If you choose to help, please visit: www.donatelife.org, www.donevidatexas.org, www.organ.org