Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hey, guys. This is kind of important.

Let's talk for a minute about donating organs and tissues, shall we? 

There are three big things that you need to know about organ donation. The first is the most serious: There Are Not Enough Organs For Everybody Who Needs One.

The second is this: Nobody Is Going To Kill You In Order To Harvest Your Organs.

And the third is this 'un: We Can Use More Than Just Organs.

Point Number One:
There simply aren't enough organs to go around. Kidneys, livers, hearts and lungs, you name it: there ain't enough. The problem is particularly acute in minority communities, as there are certain immunity factors that make successful transplantation more likely if you transplant, say, a kidney from an African-American or Asian-American into another African- or Asian-American. People die every day--thousands of them--because they've run out of time on a waiting list. You can donate even if your religion recommends that you stay in one piece for burial (Orthodox Judaism has an allowance for donation; I don't know about Jehovah's Witnesses), even if you're old, even if you're sick with certain things.

Point The Second:
When you (or somebody you love) dies of trauma or some "allowable" disease, the folks who keep your body alive and the folks who decide if you're a donor candidate are NOT the same people. Likewise, if you're wheeled into an ER after a motorcycle crash during which you weren't wearing a helmet, nobody's gonna look at you right off and say, "Hey, this is a potential organ donor; slow down on that intubation, okay?"

There are no doctors looking covetously at your liver. There are no nurses who're gonna slip you a little somethin'-somethin' to hurry you along. We're in the business of exhausting all possible resources until somebody says "stop", at which point we turn the possibility of donation over to some totally other different group that's not associated with us.

Point Numero Tres:
Even if you leave your organs in bad shape, we can still use your tendons (for people who need knee or hip surgery), bone (for trauma), skin (burns), intestines (yikes) and other bits, like corneas, to help other people. On the back of my driver's license is the notation: ALL USABLE ORGANS AND TISSUES. My family knows to compost the rest and plant a garden on top of it.

Please make arrangements to donate. Tell your family and friends. Fill out a "Live, Then Give" card--you can search online for local organ donation organizations that can hook you up.

And, if you're not in the mood to donate, or the thought of somebody using your leftovers totally squicks you out, try this: Faithful Reader Hallie has started a fundraising effort for the United Network For Organ Sharing. They're a great group--they work on national policy to make sure that organs are distributed in the most fair way possible, raise awareness, and get people set up with new bits when they need 'em. 

Hallie's dad got a new heart through their good offices and is still going strong six years later. I encourage you to learn what you can about UNOS and what they do, and donate if you have the wherewithal.

Information is here.

And thank you, from the bottom of my eventually-to-be-reused heart.

19 comments:

Penny said...

I haven't even read this whole thing and I'm diving in to say that I am so totally donating EVERYTHING. If I die in such a way that my organs/skin/meninges/corneas (scratch that last. No one in their right mind would want my corneas) can be harvested, that would be the cat's freakin' MEOW. I simply cannot think of a cooler thing to do with this body o' mine. However, if I die in such a way that my organs cannot be harvested, I want to be a cadaver. The lovely 79 year old woman I worked on for two semesters will forever be in my heart, as will her family.

Coolest.

Thing.

Ever.

And if I can't be a cadaver, this is choice number three:

www.medcure.org

A coworker's father-in-law went this route when he was dying of cancer. He died at home, on Christmas Eve, in the mountains, in a freaking blizzard. Even with all those factors working against them, the people who had been contracted by MedCure showed up in less than 90 minutes after the family called and were absolutely wonderful. MedCure gleaned what knowledge they could, cremated the remains, returned the cremains in just a few weeks and charged the family........

Nothing.

Nada.

Zero.

TRY to tell me there's a better thing to do if the first two options don't pan out.

Thank you so much for addressing this, Nurse Jo!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I do have one question. I was told by a friend (a paralegal, in NY) that if you sign the back of your drivers license that your family pays the bill for organ/tissue extraction. Is this true?

Haley Dawn said...

I am an organ donor on my license. I actually would love to have my body used in something like "Body World". If you can learn something from my body then fantastic. If I'm dead and my heart still can beat for someone else then use it. If my skin can help a burn patient, slap it on them. It isn't doing me any good.

Molly said...

It's funny, I was just thinking about this last night. I always do have that lurking paranoia about #2, though I know rationally that it won't happen.

I have the little box checked on the back of my state ID (I don't have a driver's license), but is it necessary to register elsewhere?

I've always told everyone that I want to be a cadaver when I die. But if my organs can be used in a more immediate fashion - help yourselves. What am I going to be doing with them after I'm dead?

Jo said...

Anon, all the costs for tissue and organ harvesting are paid for by the procurement folks that end up with the tissues or organs. The family of the donor doesn't get stuck with the bill.

Chris said...

I could not agree with you more - take it all! If I'm DEAD, I'm not using any of this stuff anymore. I have made sure that my family knows that ANY/EVERY part of me that can be donated is to be used - and if for some reason it can't, donate me to a local medical school (we have more than one) so I can teach someone else to be a doctor/nurse.

SteveC said...

I have a Congenital Heart Defect (Tricuspid Atresia) and since I'm a little older (42) my first heart surgery was the original version of the Glenn Shunt; it sends blood only to the right lung. Often, younger cardiologists have never even seen anything like that. Any suggestions on the best place to donate my body so perhaps future doctors can learn about ol' guys with heart defects?

Wonderful World of Weiners said...

Jo,

Thank you so much for not only posting the link for my raffle but also for addressing organ donation in such a straight forward way.

My Dad lived at Brigham and Womens Hospital in Boston for 98 days waiting for a heart or to die. The docs said it was that simple. While there, we watched many of his floormates pass away before a heart became available.

My Dad was one of the lucky ones - he got his heart on Friday, June 13, 2003. At 59 years old.

And we have never for even one minute stopped thanking both God and the donor's family for making it possible.

I truly hope to raise as much money as possible so that UNOS can continue raising awareness about how important organ donation is. ANd while fundraising, I am holdind a raffle with over 90 AMAZING prizes. I am seriously blown away at what people have donated as prizes.

So it's a win -win. I raise money for a cause that I'm passionate about and people can win BIG!!

Please hop over and enter. I would truly appreciate it.

Hallie :)

little d, S.N. said...

My grandmother donated herself to be a med school cadaver, and refused a foot amputation because she didn't want to be "incomplete" for the students. Tough lady. I hope the students learn a LOT from her.

My card just says "Everything but the eggs"...the thought of somebody taking the eggs is unlikely, but squicks me out. EVERYTHING else though...USE IT! I wont need it!

CMe said...

amen!! i dont know why EVERYONE doesnt donate... makes no sense to me. they cant use it any longer and if its helpful to others...

Danielle said...

I must say, this is the best nursing blog on the web. I'm going into my first year of nursing this fall, and have enjoyed reading every post. You've put things on your site I'm sure I wont learn at school! Thanks for the dedication to this blog - I look forward to your humourous and insighful posts.

Reality Rounds said...

My sister in-laws mother just donated her entire body to science. I have also signed by driver's license as a donor. If you ever have a chance, you must read the book "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers." by Mary Roach. Fascinating.

Molly said...

Sent a bit of cash to your friend's fundraiser. Good luck to her!

Jo said...

I've been signed up to the UK Organ Donor register since I was 17 (first time I could give blood), and my parents have known of my wishes since I was about 7 and realised what the donor issues were. I have always thought that helping someone live / help them live a more normal life is far more important than giving the worms a slap up feed!

Karen said...

In case you ever feel that you are writing into a void what follows are some comments from some friends who I passed the medcure info to:

You, my friend, are simply amazing. You just answered my brother-in-law's prayers. Their son is dying and they are in bad straits. They were going around asking for donations from church members and businesses because they have no money for a funeral. He spent an hour on the phone with Steven today stressing, and we were talking about it when I opened your email.

Thank you, thank you.


Sent for the info on it. Think it's great idea!

So while it might not be the organ donation goal you started with some good has come of it all.

Karen

Anonymous said...

Folks should consider bone marrow donation, too!

Surgeon In My Dreams said...

My grandson, who is 8 years old, is blind from birth.

Three weeks ago, he had a corneal transplant. By that evening, he could already see light.

Someone died - and now "my" baby is on his way to seeing.

Anonymous said...

i'm a two time cancer survivor. i have 'organ' donor on my drivers license. Would anyone here know though if they would actually take my organs if i were in an accident? Or would my cancer status nullify that? I tried to donate blood at the American Red Cross - and despite my calling in advance, when they learned i had undergone chemo they rejected me as a donor and put me on a do not donate LIST. Will the same list keep me from being a donor?

i've asked my doctors but they don't have much guidance to offer.
nadine

sara said...

thank you so much for posting this. organ donation is something i feel pretty strongly about--i have had it marked on my driver's license since i was 16 and have reiterated my requests to my family. my father was an organ donor; i am happy to know somebody else now has his heart, corneas and skin. i can only hope i can continue giving long after i've left the earth as well.