Sunday, July 17, 2011

Organ Donation: Make the Tragedy of Death Less Wasteful

By Dominic Stevenson
The average waiting time for the donation of a heart is 93 days for a child and 184 days for an adult and for a kidney, it is 277 and 1110 days respectively. Imagine what you could do with three years of good health and not spending hours of your day hooked up to a dialysis machine. Imagine how much agony families would be spared by not having to wait three months to see if their child can have a heart transplant.
Countries such as Austria, Belgium and Spain have opt-out system of donation and despite regional variations, tend to have higher levels of donation than in the UK. There are currently over 15 million people on the organ donor register in the UK but this does not always equate to all of those on the register donating their organs. Family members still have the right to veto organ donation in the UK after a patient has passed away.
Sally Johnson, director for organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: "We all know how frustrating it is to wait for something we want - be it a bus, exam results or a delivery at home - but our lives don't depend on it. Imagine how it feels to be one of those waiting on average three years for a life saving organ transplant."2
The Welsh Assembly has set out their legislative priorities and one of those is establish an opt-out system of organ donation. They want to use the same 'soft approach' to organ donation as they use in Spain and this means that Welsh residents are presumed donors unless their families object. I suspect that if this legislation is passed, the results will be watched carefully by the government to see whether it will be implemented across the UK.
Recently Alice Pyne hit the headlines after publishing her bucket list online. One of the items on her bucket list was to get more people to sign up to the Anthony Nolan bone marrow register. As a result of the international attention her story got, they received 2134 applicants to join the register in two days. This was an equivalent to a month's worth of applicants. It is incredibly sad that Alice is now too ill to receive a donor but her efforts now will save lives for years to come.
When I am gone, I will be gone and however upsetting that may be for my loved ones, I would hope that they would find comfort in knowing that parts of me had gone towards saving or improving a life. I would also allow for the organs of a loved one to be taken for donation if they had not previously specified a preference.
Through my work, I have seen organs being stored following extraction from a donor and I have seen the same ones transplanted into a patient. The first time I saw this, it was a very special experience as I knew that a life had been changed for the better. It seemed to make the tragedy of death less wasteful. We will all be buried or cremated, so why not help someone have a chance at an improved life whilst our organs are still suitable for that purpose?
You can sign up for the organ donor register by visiting

If you do sign up, talk to your family about it and explain why you have done it. I signed up for the first time following an appeal by somebody that I studied with at university. She needed bone marrow but sadly a matching donor wasn't found in time.

The tragedy you may feel at the death of a love one is not the best legacy, giving someone a second chance at life can be.
Follow Dominic Stevenson on Twitter:

“You Have the Power to Donate Life – Sign-up today!
Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
United States, (Select your state - top right)
United Kingdom, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save or enhance the lives of up to fifty people with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants (see allotransplantation). One tissue donor can help 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. Organs can save lives, corneas renew vision, and tissue may help to restore someone's ability to walk, run or move freely without pain. Life Begins with You

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