One of the most meaningful gifts you could ever give is to register yourself as an organ donor. Donating your organs upon your death can save the life of up to eight individuals, or restore someone’s ability to feel healthy and active in ways they haven’t been able to experience for years.
The Need for Organ Donation
More than 130 million Americans over the age of 18 are registered as organ donors. While that’s a heartening figure, it’s important to ensure that as many people as possible register to be organ donors. The reasons include these statistics from organdonor.gov:
- 95 percent of adults in the U.S. say they support organ donation, but only 48 percent are actually signed up as donors. It only takes a few minutes to complete the registration online. The higher that registration count goes up, the more lives that could potentially be saved.
- The number of men, women, and children currently on the national transplant list tops 119,000. Every 10 minutes, another name gets added.
- Although nearly 31,000 transplants were performed in 2015, 22 people die each day waiting for a transplant.
- Only 3 in 1,000 people die in a way that allows for organ donation.
Becoming an organ donor is a personal decision. To help you make the choice that’s right for you, you can explore the facts at organdonor.gov, plus read stories from donors and recipients.
The Importance of Registering
If you decide to be an organ donor, the best way to make your wishes known is to register to be an organ donor online at organdonor.gov or in-person at your local motor vehicle department, and notify your family members of your decision. It’s also a great idea to tell your physician about your wishes and ask that your election be noted in your medical record.
Online registration happens at the state level, so when you choose “ready to sign up” on the government website, you’ll select your state from the drop down menu and be redirected to your specific state registry.
This registration step is very important. While you may have a notation on your driver’s license stating you are an organ donor, your driver’s license may not be with you or be readily visible or seen in time. If your family doesn’t know you wanted to be an organ donor, they may not agree to have your organs donated. And if there’s a question between one family member and the next as to what your wishes were, being registered can help resolve the issue and avoid causing hurt feelings between those who are left behind.
In some cases, if you have not prepared to be an organ donor, family members may elect to donate your organs after your death. But in most cases, the preferred method is to register, state your wishes ahead of time, and let your loved ones know.
Which Organs and Tissues Can You Donate?
Typically, you can donate up to eight organs at the time of your death: two lungs, two kidneys, the pancreas, liver, intestines, and heart. You can also donate tissues, such as bones, eyes/corneas, heart valves, skin grafts, and tendons.
By donating your corneas, you might be leaving behind the gift of sight for someone who may have damaged corneas from eye disease, injury, or birth defects. In fact, according to the Eye Bank Association of America, more than 95% of all corneal transplants are successful in restoring a recipient’s vision. In 2015 alone, nearly 50,000 Americans had their sight restored this way.
One of the best parts is, corneal donors don’t have to “match” the way organ donors do. It doesn’t even matter if you have different eye colors, blood types, or even how good your eyesight is. Corneal donors are universal.
Additionally, the sclera, which is the white part of the eye, can be donated and used in operations to rebuild the eye.
You Can Choose What to Donate
When you register, you can decide what organs and tissues you want to have donated and you can change your election at any time.
For example, if you were going through the Florida registration process, you would be asked if you would like to place any limitations on the donations you are making. If you select yes, you are given the option to opt out of donating specific organs and tissues, as well as to opt out of the use of your organs or tissues for research purposes in the event they can’t be used for transplantation.
Most organ donations happen at the time of death. However, there are times when living donors can potentially choose to donate one kidney, one lung or part of a lung, or portions of their liver, pancreas, or intestines. The donor and the recipient would be evaluated to determine health and suitability for the procedure. Most of these living donations happen between family members or other loved ones, but some also happen between strangers.
Some tissues can also be donated by living donors. Typically these include skin after certain surgeries, bone after knee and hip replacements, healthy cells from bone marrow, and blood, including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
Tissues the body can easily replace, such as blood or bone marrow, can be donated more than once. In general, blood and platelet donations may be made by any healthy person over the age of 17 and may be donated as frequently as one time every seven days.
Four Things You May Not Know
Sadly, some people who want to be organ donors don’t register because of misinformation or myths surrounding donation. So let’s bust those myths with four things you may not know about organ donation that could help you move forward with your decision to register:
- Anyone can register as a donor. Your age, race, or medical history has no bearing on whether or not you can be a donor.
- Most religions view and support organ donation as a final gift of love and generosity. If you are concerned about how your particular religion views organ donation, you can consult with your faith leader or view official statements or policies some religions have made regarding organ donation.
- Your medical care won't suffer. Some people are concerned that being an organ donor will affect the level of medical care they receive. Your medical care will be the same whether you are a donor or not; the first priority will always be to save your life. Until all lifesaving methods have been exhausted, the possibility of donation does not even come into consideration.
- Everything will be handled respectfully. Throughout the donation process, the body is treated with care and dignity. With most organ, eye, and tissue donations, an open casket funeral is still possible if that is a concern. Additionally, there are no costs associated with donating organs; only the recipient of organs faces additional medical costs.
Spread the Word
At any given time, more than 100,000 people sit on the waiting list for a matching organ. You can help improve that statistic by signing up as a donor and telling your friends and family about the value of organ donations. You can also share information about organ donation through your social media channels to help increase awareness and encourage more registrations.