By Lana Haight Leader-Post, Saskatchewan News Network
A lack of awareness is behind the continued shortage of human organs available for transplantation, says the head of the program in Saskatchewan.
"We've flat-lined for years and years and years in Canada," said Raylene Matlock, manager of the Saskatchewan Transplant Program, based at St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon.
In Saskatchewan, corneas and other types of tissue are retrieved more often than organs from people after they've died. In 2009, tissue was retrieved from 30 deceased donors. Typically, organs are retrieved from about 14 deceased donors each year, says Matlock.
At any one time, about 125 people in Saskatchewan are waiting for some kind of transplant.
While about 5,000 people die annually in Saskatchewan, not all have organs that would be suitable for transplanting, says Matlock.
"An ideal donor is somebody who's been healthy for most of their life and died of a catastrophic event to their brain. Now, a catastrophic event can include many things: an overdose, a trauma, a gunshot wound, a massive stroke or cerebral aneurysm," she said.
And even with suitable donors, not all tissue or all organs are retrieved. From the 14 donors in 2009, 13 livers, five hearts and 19 kidneys, including pairs, were among the organs made available for transplantation.
Matlock would like to see Saskatchewan's donation rate double to 28 deceased donors each year, but to accomplish that, people in the province need to start talking to their family and friends.
"If they have not talked to their family about what their wishes are, sometimes it makes it very difficult at this time for a family to decide what to do," said Matlock.
"Some people aren't comfortable with death, finality. And some aren't comfortable that we're keeping their loved one alive on machines. They have to be educated by us about brain death and what that actually means, that there is no blood flow to the brain. We do tests that confirm it. We do scans that confirm it."
Only the next-of-kin can provide legal consent for organs to be retrieved from someone who has died. A signed organ donor card or a sticker on a health card does not provide that consent for organ donation, says Matlock. Still, for those people who want the cards, they are available from the Saskatchewan Transplant Program offices in Regina at 766-6477 or Saskatoon at 655-5054.
Health-care workers also need to become more aware of their responsibility to encourage organ donation, says Kimberly Young, executive director of organs and tissues for Canadian Blood Services.
"No one would ever dream of not diagnosing an appendix, but often it happens that they don't diagnose the opportunity for organ donation. You would be held accountable if you missed diagnosing an appendix even if it was for someone who was 95 years old," said Young.
"We shouldn't leave it up to the person. We should have a system that says (organ donation) is the responsible and required diagnosis."
The Canadian Blood Services is drafting a document for the deputy ministers of health from the federal, provincial and territorial governments that will recommend ways to increase the rate of organs from deceased donors. Establishing a legally binding national electronic registry for people who want their organs retrieved after death could be one of the recommendations, says Young.
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