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According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 200,000 men, women and children are currently on the national transplant waiting list. Of those patients, 22 people will die each day waiting for a transplant. Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the waiting list, making for nearly 150 new patients every day.
Nearly 31,000 transplants were performed in 2015. Every day, about 80 people receive a lifesaving transplant.
One person alone can donate up to eight lifesaving organs: heart, two lungs, liver, pancreas, two kidneys, and intestines. A single donor can save the lives of up to eight people.
There are several myths surrounding organ donation. Many of them are false or ill-informed. Below are some common misconceptions about the process and the truth behind each statement.
Myth #1: There are plenty of organ donors.
This is absolutely not true. Despite 95% of American adults supporting organ donation, less than half of all Americans are actually registered as an organ donor. Of those registered donors, only three in every 1,000 people die in a way that may allow for organ donation. Those ways occur primarily when a patient comes to a hospital because of an accident or illness, such as severe head trauma, a brain aneurysm or stroke. Out of those three people who die in a way that donation can even be considered, their organs also have to be in good health to be accepted as a donation. Overall, the amount of available organs is minuscule compared to the number of people waiting to receive an organ.
Myth #2: Doctors will not try as hard to save your life if they know you are an organ donor.
Sorry, but Grey’s Anatomy got this one wrong. Doctors will absolutely do everything in their power to save your life.
You must be declared brain dead before doctors can even begin the evaluation process of determining whether donation is possible. Brain death is entirely different from a coma. A patient may wake up from a coma, but brain death occurs when there is zero brain activity or a patient cannot breathe on their own. Unfortunately, brain death is irreversible.
The medical team treating you is completely separate from the transplant team. A transplant patient has a regular doctor and a doctor who specializes in transplants. The transplant doctor isn’t called until a potential donor has been declared brain dead.
Myth #3: My religion does not approve of organ donation.
All major religions support organ donation and consider it a final act of charity. Visit this link for more information on the stances of specific religions on organ donation.
Myth #4: Donating my organs means extending the grieving process for my family.
Though each person mourns in his or her own way, the grieving process may actually be longer for your family if you do not previously register as an organ donor. If anything, taking matters into your own and declaring what you want for yourself will spare your family members from making this decision for you in their most vulnerable moments.
If you do happen to die in a manner that allows for organ donation, but are not listed on the national registry, the Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) will ask your next of kin for permission to donate your organs. Already being registered means your family will not have to make such an important decision while they are grieving your loss.
Myth #5: My family will not be able to have an open-casket funeral for me.
Doctors performing the organ retrieval operation make sure that bodies are still preserved in such way that your body will look the same for an open-casket funeral. There is no way to tell if someone donated his or her organs based solely on what the body looks like during the funeral.
Myth #6: I’m too old and/or unhealthy to donate my organs.
Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up to be a donor. The transplant team will evaluate the health of the individual to determine whether donation is possible.
There are very few conditions that would prevent someone from becoming a donor. Those conditions include HIV, active cancer, or an infection. However, these conditions do not mean that none of your organs or tissues are viable options to give someone else a new chance at life.
There is no age limit to be an organ donor. The oldest donor in the U.S. donated at the age of 92. The most important thing is the condition of your organs when you die. Doctors will determine whether donation is possible. All you have to do is register.