Organ shortages

You can save multiple lives through donation
By B. Denise Hawkins
Organ shortages

Those responsible for increasing the level of organ and tissue donation in the U.S. have been renewing the call for donors who can help save the lives of people in need of transplants.

The most pressing need in organ donation remains the shortage of donors. The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, which maintains the nation's transplant waiting list, reported that in the first nine months of 2013, there were 121,076 candidates waiting to receive new organs. New names are added every 10 minutes, and about 18 people a day die while waiting. In North Carolina, more than 3,400 people are awaiting an urgent transplant.

The gift of life

Most organ and tissue donations come from deceased donors — one person can save up to eight lives. But as the need for organs grows, more people are becoming living donors. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that about 6,000 living donations are made annually; the most frequent procedure is a single kidney transplant. Other common living donations include a lung, or a part of the lung, pancreas and intestines.

Of those on the nation's waiting list for kidneys, more than one-third are African-American, according to the National Kidney Foundation. African-Americans suffer disproportionately from high blood pressure, diabetes and certain genetic diseases, which puts them at high risk for kidney disease.

Donor eligibility

According to Donate Life NC, a collaborative group of organizations that promote eye, organ and tissue donation, people of all ages and medical histories can register as donors. Medical suitability is determined case-by-case, at the time of death. Even a person with a serious health problem like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or other conditions may still be able to donate at the time of death. Potential donors are carefully screened prior to transplant to ensure that organs and tissues are safe for recipients.

Registering in North Carolina

You can register as a donor at a North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (NC DMV) Driver License office or register online with Donate Life NC (donatelifenc.org/register). If you register via the DMV, a red heart is placed on your driver's license or ID card. This symbol means that you are giving legal consent for the donation of your organs and corneas and eyes after you die. It does not include tissue donation, nor does it include whole body donation.

If you register at donatelifenc.org/register you can be more specific about your donation wishes. For example, you can choose which organs or tissues you want to donate — and exclude those you do not want to donate. Your online record supersedes your DMV record because it is the more specific donation document. It's important to share your decision to be a donor with your family, physician, religious leader and friends, and include organ donation in your advance directives, will and living will.

Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, OrganDonor.gov, Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network and Donate Life NC. Information also added by Karen Olson House, a contributing editor at Carolina Country magazine.

About the Author

B. Denise Hawkins writes on consumer affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

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