What you may not know about donating your organs
Recently, a friend announced with much fanfare on Facebook that she had decided to sign up as an organ donor. I was surprised she hadn’t signed up earlier, as she has always been supportive of the concept.
But she’s not the only one holding back. In the US, 95% of Americans are in favour of being donors, but only 58% are registered. Meanwhile, here in South Africa, a paltry 0.03% are registered donors. Because it is not something that’s talked about often enough in schools, the public tends to know little about it.
The rule of 7
In marketing, the rule of seven states that it takes an average of seven interactions with your brand before a person will buy into it. This means we at the Hero777 NPO have to rely on YOU, our followers, to share our marketing material like mad, so that we can get enough exposure to convince people to sign up. In fact, these days, it may take more than seven encounters to get through to people, what with all the clutter on their news feeds.
The excuses for not wanting to register are many and varied. Some claim they are too old, or they’ll announce that they drink too much, that they’ve had cancer, or Covid-19, and so, are unable to donate. Otherwise, they express concern that their families will be saddled with the bills, or claim that the doctors are so keen to snatch up donor organs that they won’t even wait till the donor is brainstem dead before they start slicing them open. Nothing could be further removed from the facts.
Let doctors decide
In truth, people of all ages and medical histories are potential donors. Although donation and transplant takes place successfully between people from different racial or ethnic groups, transplants are often more successful when organs are matched between people of the same racial or ethnic background, so it cannot be stressed enough that all kinds of donors are needed to help save lives. It may be costly, but folks in government hospitals are also organ recipients. It is a fallacy that only those who can afford private healthcare benefit.
Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated. Medical advances are continuously being made, so where HIV-positive donors might not have been considered for donation in the past, nowadays, HIV-positive organ donors are able to donate to recipients living with HIV. The same may one day be true for those who have had cancer, so never say never.
What about Covid-19?
Potential donors who test positive with active Covid-19 will not be able to donate. But if someone recovers from Covid-19, then passes away from something unrelated, donation is possible.
And whilst good ol’ Johnny who spends most of his time propping up the counter at your local pub may have a severe case of cirrhosis of the liver, which would rule out that organ for donation, doctors do not discriminate against drunks. In fact, they might even decide his ticker or his corneas are in surprisingly good condition, and a perfect match for patients who have long been waiting for this miracle, so please don’t use your ailments or diseases as an excuse, sign up and also tell your friends and family about your decision. (This is one time when it’s okay to brag.)
There is no cut-off age for donating your organs. Strict medical criteria determine whether they can be utilised, so don’t prematurely disqualify yourself. Let the doctors decide at the time of your death whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplant.
As for the fable of being alive when doctors procure your organs, do you honestly think of doctors in the same way you might imagine a hardcore Colombian druglord? The doctors who treat you when you are brought into the hospital are trained to focus only on saving your life. In the event that it seems that you are past saving, other independent doctors are called in to check for brainstem death, so perish the thought that you will be given second rate treatment just to lay claim to your organs.
In the rare event that you might end up on a ventilator, you can forget about having to frantically wriggle your toes to signal to your family that you’re still alive. In fact, those who have agreed to organ donation are given more tests than those who have not agreed to such, to determine that they are actually dead. This comes at zero cost to your family.
The organ donor’s family is never charged for donation. They will be charged for the costs of the efforts to save your life, but these should not be misinterpreted as costs related to organ donation. Costs for organ procurement go to the recipient, whilst costs associated with funeral arrangements are obviously for the donor family’s account.
Religion does not prevent donation
Most major religions support donation as a final act of compassion and generosity. Interestingly, in the US, National Donor Sabbath is observed annually two weekends before Thanksgiving. Leaders from various religions, including Roman Catholicism, Islam, most branches of Judaism and most Protestant faiths, participate in creating awareness.
Congregations learn about the critical organ shortage, they also celebrate life and pray for those affected by donation and transplant.
If your religion requires a swift burial, or if you want an open casket funeral, the organ donor process does take these factors into account. The donor’s body is clothed for burial and treated with care and respect, so there are no visible signs of organ or tissue donation. If you are unsure of your faith’s position on organ donation, why not ask a member of your clergy?
As regards minimum age, if you have an ID book, you are able to sign up to donate, but whatever your age, your family will be required to give consent when you die, so do some research and talk to them about your decision.
It is important to bear in mind that young children are also in need of transplants, and they usually need organs smaller than those an adult can provide. Nobody is promised tomorrow, so it is worthwhile discussing organ donation with your family and getting their views on the matter. There is no doubt it is difficult to make the decision for a family member on the spot and under time constraints, but even if they have not signed up, you can make the decision more easily if you have discussed it in a more relaxed setting previously.
If you are worried about traumatising your child, it may interest you to know that children as young as nine years are taught about organ donation in countries like the Netherlands.
The rich and famous
Because of the amount of publicity generated when celebrities receive a transplant, some folks think that celebs like Selena Gomez, who received a kidney transplant are pushed to the top of the list, but in South Africa, just as in the States this is not the case.
Organ allocation is not affected by how much dough you rake in, how many fragrance and clothing lines you’ve established, how many movies you have made or even how sweetly you serenade the doctors. Organs are matched with patients on a national waiting list based on blood type, body size, how ill the patients are, donor distance, tissue type and time spent on the list. Sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression and race are not generally considered.
Why should I donate?
By donating your organs and tissue, you can save or improve as many as 75 lives. In addition, it may help your family to cope with their loss, knowing you helped others, so don’t wait, talk about it today. If nothing else, it is a topic that may surprise your family into ungluing themselves from their mobile devices for half an hour.
To register as a potential organ and tissue donor simply click on the REGISTER HERE button and fill in the form. It will take you less than three minutes. Remember it is imperative that you tell your family as they will have to sign for you one day.