Transplant decision easier than ever
By Christine van Reeuwyk - Peninsula News Review
Once a year Herbie visits Vancouver. He moved away 14 years ago.
At first he made the trip back and forth every few days, then weeks, until visits were cut back to once a year. Yearly is a good thing, I learn later at the huge medical center in Vancouver where Herbie has his annual check up. There, every entryway holds hand pumps that dish out disinfectant.
My friend is always quick to point out, “you can’t come if you’re sick” when she plans the annual check up trip for Herbie — her mother’s liver — and trip to Ikea. The shopping is always contingent on how well Herbie performs.
I’m not sure how many doctors Herbie and my friend’s mom have seen at this point, but it’s my second waiting room. This one is filled with only liver clinic patients and family members – they vary by race, age and gender. A healthy looking young man (who turns out to be the ride of another patient) waits, visibly impatient, while another middle-aged man sits, then stands, then sits again – uncomfortable and dangerously thin.
Behind me a pair of husbands discuss their wives’ diagnosis and transplants; one came out of hospital quickly, the other developed complications. The one-year survival rate for liver transplant recipients in B.C. is about 85 per cent, slightly lower than a heart transplant recipient. That drops to 80 per cent by three years and 73 per cent at five.
A woman comes from the examination rooms in the back, a smile splitting her face. “I’m good for a year,” she announces proudly to the nurse at the front desk. The once-a-year check up is a milestone for any transplant recipient.
A record 47 liver transplants were performed in B.C. last year – part of an all-time high of 266 organ transplants overall – making it three consecutive record-setting years. In 2008, there was also a historical high in the number of organs available, combined with a 42-per-cent increase (over 2007) in donors.
“I would like to acknowledge the generous spirit of the donors and their families, who were able to provide these life-saving transplants,” Minister of Health Services George Abbott said when the numbers were released in January. “Wait times for organ and tissue transplants depend upon organ donation and the availability of organs for transplant. I would encourage all British Columbians to learn more about registering to become an organ donor.”
“This is great news for our patients,” added Bill Barrable, executive director for B.C. Transplant. “Not only is it important to recognize the donors, but also the critical care staff in B.C. and our recovery teams, who perform such a difficult, but crucial role in the organ donation process. Without their support, dedication, and expertise, organ donation and transplantation would not be possible.”
Last year, B.C. Transplant became the first in Canada to offer an online, legal organ donor consent system incorporating digital signature technology. This means British Columbians can now register their decision on B.C.’s Organ Donor Registry more efficiently using the customized donor registration form, which offers a legal and paperless online alternative to mailing in forms.
Despite the increase in organ transplants, hundreds of B.C. residents are still waiting for a life-saving transplant. Based on public opinion surveys, 85 per cent of British Columbians said they support organ donation and intend to register their decision, yet only about 16 per cent have done so.
We’re intent in this day and age to recycle as much as we can. So is it morbid to participate in the greatest recycling project of all? That is, after all what organ donation really is – one final recycling project. B.C. Transplant took the recycling tactic during the recent National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness week.
My friend, who is not among those who complain about the health-care system, still recalls the night the beeper went off Oct. 29, 1994. Shortly thereafter Herbie – so nicknamed for his shape – came into their lives.
Spending an afternoon with my friend, her mom and Herbie (perusing Ikea) I couldn’t help but think that someone’s family made a decision that gave her the greatest gift that night – her mom.
For more information on organ donation in B.C., visit http://www.transplant.bc.ca.
“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
In Great Britain, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
In Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves