Chris Zdeb, The Edmonton Journal
How many people can benefit from one organ and tissue donor? One? Five?
As many as 80.
Although people regularly read about heart, liver and kidney transplants, other organs and tissue that can be donated include the pancreas, lungs, bowel, stomach, corneas, heart valves, bone grafts and skin.
Polls and surveys reveal most Canadians lack general knowledge about organ donations, mostly because death is a morbid topic they don't want to talk about.
Canada consistently has one of the worst organ donor rates of industrialized countries: about 13 donors per million people, compared with 20 per million in the U.S., and more than 31 per million in Spain.
In 2005, 1,905 organ transplants were performed in Canada, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
That same year, 275 Canadians died while on a waiting list of almost 4,000 potential recipients.
The gap between transplant patients on waiting lists and the number of available organs is widening because demand is increasing, with people are living longer and more medical treatments are available to extend life, while the number of donors remains stagnant.
Historically in Canada, organs have been taken only from people who are declared brain dead, meaning the brain shows no sign of life. But brain death from strokes, injury or trauma occurs in only about 1.5 per cent of all in-hospital deaths, severely limiting the donor pool.
According to Health Canada, 96 per cent of relatives agree to organ donation if they already know the wishes of the donor, but only 58 per cent agree when they have not been included in the process in advance.
However, families that have donated the organs and tissues of a loved one say it helped them through the grieving process to know there was further purpose to a life cut short, especially if the person was young.
And if their deceased family member was a giving person, they see organ and tissue donation as their loved one's final gift: the gift of life to somebody else.
Anyone at any age can become an organ and tissue donor. The oldest organ donor on record was over 90 years old, and the oldest corneal donor was 102, according to Health Canada.
Locally, 255 organ transplants were performed at Capital Health in 2007. The most common were cadaver liver transplants from deceased donors, followed by cadaver kidney transplants.
Thirty-one Albertans in the Capital Health transplant program (excluding kidney transplants) died in 2007 waiting for an organ or organs.
As of Dec. 31, 2007, 371 organs in the Capital Health region, were waiting for a transplant.
Only 29 people who died in the Capital Health region donated organs in 2007, compared with 22 in 2006, a significantly low year.
For more information about organ and tissue donation check out Capital Health or call 1-866 407-1970.
“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Your generosity can save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance another 50 through tissue donation