By Ragini Grace Gupta / For The Pitt News
Every single person on this campus has the means to impact countless lives. There are currently more than 96,000 people waiting for an organ transplant in the US, according to The International Association for Organ Donation. Each day an average of 17 people die while waiting for an organ donation, and in the past 15 years the number of people on the list has grown by more than 200 percent in America, according to the Lourdes Health System. As medical science advances and new transplants become possible, hope for those waiting hangs solely on the generosity of organ donors.
When I first learned that organs could be given and taken, I was very young. Our housekeeper’s husband needed a kidney. My mom would ask her every week, “Did you find a donor?” and her reply was always, “Still waiting.”
The thought was scary — I doubt I even knew what a kidney was or what it did. Sometimes, the lack of knowledge hinders any chance of forming a connection with something. However, even though we might not be aware of something, it doesn’t mean it has no effect on us.
Originally, organ donation was something I always cringed at because, through my naivety, all I knew was that I was made of “guts.” In high school, I was reacquainted with organ donation at Girls State (an American Legion Auxiliary program for high school juniors in which participants simulate political contests), when a delegate presented a bill on organ donation awareness. The counselors loved the idea so much they gave each girl a handout on becoming an organ donor. At 16 I still thought the idea of organ donation was frightening. The thought of dying and having my organs put into other people was terrifying. Young people don’t think about mortality because, as we would like to believe, we “have our whole lives ahead of us.”
But death is something that we should not think of as so foreign. Everybody has been exposed to death directly or indirectly. Most of us have had family, friends or pets die. We have lamented over our favorite movie characters’ deaths and seen tragic stories about accidents and homicides.
While it is certainly not my intention to preoccupy you with the inevitability of death, I do want you to think about life. How can a person’s life change by receiving an organ? At first, I didn’t like the idea of organ donation because it reminded me of pain, illness and being no more. Then I saw the other side of it — a close family friend was in desperate need of a kidney and he received one from a total stranger. There are many people waiting on the organ transplant list and it is quite possible that you knew, know or will know somebody on that list. The people who suffer because they need healthy organs or tissues are siblings, parents or friends. Thinking about organ donation in a more personal way made it less scary and allowed me to open up more to the idea.
What’s the rush to become an organ donor? I don’t plan on dying any time soon. After coming to college and living by myself, however, I am more aware of all the ways a person could die just doing everyday things. Deaths caused by common things like being in an automobile, getting the flu or an infection are in the top 15 causes of death in the United States.
In the subset of accidents, the most common way to die is as a pedestrian. As students, we spend a lot of time walking on roads and being near cars. Slipping and hitting your head, alcohol poisoning, accidental drug overdose — there are plenty of ways that normal people doing normal things can die. Life is unpredictable — no one knows how long she will live, so we should not wait to become an organ donor, or to do anything for that matter. We may not have our whole lives to do it.
With this perspective, organ donation was no longer a subject to cringe about, but rather it is a reminder to take responsibility for a social issue.
You can become an organ donor by going to organdonor.gov and filling out an organ donor card and keeping it in your wallet. It is also very important to talk to your family about your decision, because you are their responsibility after your death..
E-mail Ragini at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit http://www.organdonor.gov to learn more.
“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Register to be an organ and tissue donor & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Register to be a donor in Ontario or Download Donor Cards from Trillium Gift of Life Network. NEW for Ontario: recycleMe.org - Learn The Ins & Outs Of Organ And Tissue Donation. Register Today! For other Canadian provinces click here
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
Has your life been saved by an organ transplant? "Pay it forward" and help spread the word about the need for organ donation - In the U.S. another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 11 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ or tissue transplant.