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Are you too old to donate your organs and tissue? Written by Janine Magree

EASTER is just around the corner and this would normally be an opportune time to set up an organ donor awareness table amongst the feel-good fuzzy ducklings, daffodils and bunny decorations at a shopping centre or flea market.

From behind the immaculately-styled table, we volunteers would make every effort to engage with members of the public who – if we could just grab their attention away from whatever it is that has them so engrossed in their feet as they hurry past – might be amenable to parting with their organs when they no longer have need of them.

Obviously Covid has put the kibosh on awareness stands in both 2020 and now in 2021, so registrations are way down on previous years, but when we do manage to chat to people about organ donation on our socially-distanced rounds, the excuses are usually quite predictable.

Cultural taboos play a large part in making people wary and some cite fears of not being able to have an open casket, which is not the case at all. But you wouldn’t believe how often campaigners are obliged to politely fake a chuckle and make appropriately sympathetic noises when members of the public sing out, “Oh, my organs are too pickled.” Alternatively, they will tell us, “These organs are past their sell-by date, you wouldn’t want them.” (This without knowing the facts, or even having read the brochure on offer.)

In such circumstances, I usually grit my teeth and suppress the eye-roll response to the all-too-familiar witticisms.

If they hung around for long enough, I’d love to tell the smart alecks, “You’re right, I’m in the rudest of health so I don’t want your organs. But there are a couple of thousand very ill people in this country incapable of standing here, making small talk with wags like yourself, who’d be very grateful if you would kindly authorise the experts to take a squizz at your organs when the time comes – regardless of how pickled, or how many age spots or wrinkles you think they might bear.

“Actual doctors would then make an informed decision and possibly give a couple of people a second chance at life using said over-the-hill or well-soused organs.”

Sure, these jokers I’ve long been itching to set straight may no longer be at the top of their comedic game, they may even be languishing in the memory mistbelt, or wandering the scorching deserts of hot flush territory (my deepest sympathies on this, I feel your pain), but their quite normal ageing conditions have little or no bearing on the health of the life-saving organs they might agree to donate were they to give just five minutes to thinking about registering as an organ donor.

Although there are apparently no reliable statistics on this for South Africa, it is worth noting that in the US in 2019, approximately one out of three transplants came from someone over the age of 50.

This just goes to show that a fair number of donors are not exactly in the spring chicken category. In fact, for someone whose husband is often referred to as “the Ballie” at 58, it was an eye-opener to discover that a gentleman who had reached the venerable age of 92 was one of the oldest organ donors in the States, and that the recipient of his liver was a woman of 69, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration for that country.

So just to recap, for those whose memories are a little foggy – being older may cause your “grandies” to sigh painfully over your ineptitude with electronic devices, but it definitely doesn’t rule you out from donning your Superman/woman cape (if that’s what tickles your fancy) and getting down to the serious business of signing up to save lives.

Doctors will decide at the time of your death whether you are a good candidate, and whether your organs can be transplanted or not. And what’s more, if you share your intentions with your family and friends, as is so vital when you sign up, you may even win over a couple of folks for the cause, making you even more of a hero in the organ donor sphere. 👍

Aside from donating your organs, you could also end up donating all-important tissues. I was amazed to hear from a transplant co-ordinator in Durban that a woman in her seventies had donated her corneas, which apparently restored sight to someone who would otherwise not have been able to see. What a way for her family to remember her!

Now let’s be honest, without my hearing, I imagine I’d bumble along happily enough. Goodness knows, I’m half deaf as it is, but the neighbours’ barking dogs would certainly be less of a trial and I wouldn’t be subjected to Little Drummer Boy in every single store come Christmas time.

Best of all, I could legitimately turn a deaf ear to my husband’s plaintiff cries from the braai area for a dish to put the meat in. (Why is it that these calls are inevitably timed to coincide with the wife’s simultaneously adding the finishing touches to five different salads, cleaning the mess on the counter, swabbing spilt milk off the floor and popping the pudding in the oven?)

But as one who dabbles in art for art’s sake, I revel in vibrant colour and love gardening. I’m no Peter Magubane, but I do enjoy having opportunities to photograph my beautiful natural surrounds. Without the sense of sight, I would be bereft, so I can only imagine what an incredible gift that would be to offer someone when I die.

In short, if you’re in the golden oldie bracket, you’re not off the hook. We need you just as much as the next person, so enlist a friend or family member to join you in being a hero.  


Read the information and if you have any questions, contact Hero777. We’ll be happy to answer any queries you may have.

Tell your family this is your express wish and threaten to haunt them if they don’t follow your instructions to the letter. (This should serve to both lighten the mood and lift the burden of guilt off the shoulders of those who are tasked with okaying your decision at the end of the day.)

Even though you may have registered as a donor, the final decision falls to family, so ensure they know you want to go out in style… and in my book, there’s little that burnishes one’s halo as much as saving another’s life or helping them live a more fulfilled existence.

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