Currently, more than 120,000 men, women and children are awaiting organ transplants in the United States. In 2012, 28,052 organ transplants were performed from 14,013 donors. Those numbers indicate that at least two lives are saved from every one donation. Unfortunately, the math also tells me that at least 90,000 people didn’t get an organ transplant last year.
My son-in-law is one of those people. He is still waiting.
Some transplants like a kidney, or a portion of the liver, lung, intestine, or pancreas can come from a live donor. We only need one kidney to live, and in fact many may not even experience health problems until 90% of kidney function is lost. Some transplants however, like Mark’s, must come from a deceased donor. Mark is waiting on a kidney and pancreas. If he was just in need of a kidney, we would have family members lined up to be tested to determine whether they were a match.
The doctors determined that while they were in there replacing body parts, that a new pancreas would be advisable to keep Mark’s diabetes from taking down the new-to-him kidney. People don’t have spare pancreas, however, so it becomes necessary to wait for a deceased donor who has a kidney and pancreas they are no longer using. This is sad, because the reality is that someone must die for Mark to live. Our family struggles with this reality, knowing that on the day of Mark’s life-saving surgery, another family is planning a funeral and grieving their loved one’s death. The dying person could just as easily be our family member, or yours.
According to DonateLife (DonateLife.net), “Blood and oxygen must flow through the organs until the time of recovery to ensure viability. This requires that a person die under circumstances that have resulted in an irreparable neurological injury, usually from massive trauma to the brain such as aneurysm, stroke or automobile accident.” Also, most donors must be in the hospital when they die to ensure that the blood and oxygen are flowing until the organs are removed.
And, contrary to what horror shows and urban legends may claim, doctors like Dr. Evil are not waiting with knife drawn to remove a patient’s organs at the first sign of illness. Once all life-saving efforts have been exhausted, tests are performed to confirm the absence of brain activity and a patient can be declared brain dead. Only then is donation a possibility. UNOS (the United Network of Organ Sharing) and the state donor registry is consulted to see if the patient is an organ donor. If the patient isn’t found on the registry, family members are offered the opportunity to authorize the donation. Then medical donation professionals determine which organs are viable for transplant and to which patients on the national transplant waiting list the organs are to be allocated. As you might guess, much happens in this part of the process as transplant candidates are called, like Mark was a few weeks ago (you can read about that HERE), to alert them to the possibility of transplant.
So far, we’ve just talked about organ transplants, but cornea and tissue transplants represent a whole other segment of organ transplants. Over 46,000 cornea transplants occurred in 2012. Corneas are viable for 14 days after recovery, allowing a much larger window for transplant possibilities. Cornea probably wouldn’t have ended up on my radar except that our Pastor, Reese LeRoy recently had cornea transplant and is doing quite well.