"People waiting for transplants can and do die. That is why it is so important to make sure that if you would like to donate organs in the event of death that your family are aware of your wishes."
Nearly half the families of people on the Organ Donor Register in Northern Ireland who died between 2005 and 2007 refused to give consent for a transplant to take place, the Belfast Telegraph reveals today.
Almost as many people waiting for a transplant in Northern Ireland have died since 2005 as the number of families here who said they did not want their loved ones' organs being used to save a life.
According to shock figures held by UK Transplant, 104 families of potential deceased donors were approached between the beginning of April in 2005 and the end of March in 2007 - only 56 gave consent for organs to be used.
During this period, 35 people on the organ transplant list died - nine of whom were waiting for a kidney, seven for a liver, three for a new heart and one person required a heart and lung transplant.
In total, 667 transplants have taken place since 2003 in Northern Ireland.
There are currently over 396,433 people residing in Northern Ireland on the UK Organ Donor Register and 313 people on the UK Transplant waiting list.
The majority of these are waiting for a kidney transplant.
People signing up to the register or those who are already on the register were last night urged to ensure their families are aware of their desire to donate organs in the event of their death in order to save as many lives as possible.
Joining the register records your agreement to the use of your organs and tissue for transplantation after your death.
Eleanor Donaghy, regional transplant co-ordinator based at Belfast City Hospital, explained: "People who require kidneys are slightly better off than other patients waiting for transplants because there is a treatment which can keep them alive.
"They can undergo dialysis but life is very restricted. You must attend hospital for your dialysis treatment on a frequent basis and if you don't you will die."
Ms Donaghy explained that the outlook for patients waiting for other organs is even more bleak: "If you need another organ, like a liver, you don't go onto the waiting list until your life expectancy is about six months because so few organs are available.
"People waiting for transplants can and do die. That is why it is so important to make sure that if you would like to donate organs in the event of death that your family are aware of your wishes.
"In my experience I have never had a family refuse the wishes of their relative but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen. Donation happens at a time of great emotional trauma for a family and if it comes as a shock that the person is on the Organ Donor Register that makes the decision even more difficult. It is better if there isn't that shock factor."
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