Question of the Week

April 25, 2005


"April [is] National Donate Life Month, a time to raise public awareness of the critical need for organ, tissue, marrow, and blood donation. ... Over the years, many participating organizations and individuals found it restrictive to limit special donation awareness efforts to one week in April-especially as the week often conflicted with other observances such as National Volunteer Week, or at times, with Passover or Holy Week. The change to a month-long observance of 'National Donate Life Month' underscores the importance of donation of not only organs and tissues, but also marrow and blood."

The goal is to "raise public awareness of the critical need." The need for...

"In recent years, the science of organ transplantation has made great strides. Unfortunately, the process of securing and allocating organs has not matched this progress. There still is a critical shortage of organs. Here are some statistics: * The number of people waiting to receive an organ transplant in the United States is rising. There are now more than 82,000 people on the national organ transplantation waiting list. * Each day, 63 people receive an organ transplant, but another 16 people on the waiting list die because organs aren't available."

Every day, "people on the waiting list die because organs aren't available."

"There are two essential steps to saving lives through organ donation. 1. SHARE YOUR LIFE. Decide to be a donor.Transplants provide hope for thousands of people with organ failure. In addition, hundreds of thousands more can be helped with tissue transplants. Unfortunately, the need for donors is much greater than the actual number of donors. Your commitment to organ and tissue donation can save lives. 2. SHARE YOUR DECISION. Tell your family. The most important part of deciding to be a donor is telling your family. Talking about donation doesn't mean talking about death. It is talking about the opportunity to give another person a second chance at life. ... There is no national registry of organ and tissue donors. Even if you have signed something, be sure you have told your family of your wishes as they will be consulted before donation can take place."

Making the decision is not enough; you need to talk with your family and let them know what you have decided. Now what? Once you've talked to your family, you won't have to think about that issue again... Right?

"Kidney and sometimes liver transplant patients are now routinely urged by their physicians to seek living donors after being told it will take years before they reach the top of the waiting list, which now numbers more than 87,000 for all organs. Relatives and friends could feel pressured to say yes. Last year, there were nearly 7,000 living organ donors -- more than double the number a decade ago. Most gave a kidney; about 300 gave a liver lobe, and 28 donated a piece of lung."

Someone you love asks you to help. You want to help, but you have your concerns...

"While many living donors suffer no problems, others fight pain after surgery and other complications, and a few die. Hospitals vary widely in what they tell potential donors and how they screen them. The new rules would require hospitals to spell out the risks. Those that fail to comply could lose Medicare payments, a powerful tool aimed at ensuring that centers are providing quality care and looking out for living donors, whose numbers have soared amid an acute shortage of organs from the dead. ... "

What if someone you love didn't need an organ, but needed something your body could replace?

"A marrow or blood cell transplant is a potentially life-saving treatment for patients with leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood diseases. A transplant replaces a patient's unhealthy blood cells with healthy blood-forming cells from a volunteer donor. ... Because tissue type is inherited, patients are most likely to match someone of their same race and ethnicity. There is a special need to recruit more donors who identify themselves as: Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latino. ... A donor's marrow is completely replaced within four to six weeks.... Most donors are back to their usual routine in a few days. Some may take two to three weeks before they feel completely recovered. ... These effects go away shortly after donating. When asked about their discomfort, most donors are quick to point out that it was worth it to help save a life, and they would be willing to do it again.... Potential donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60 years old and meet health guidelines."

What if it is someone you love? A family member? A friend? What if your marrow was needed by a total stranger? What about your blood?

"To give blood for transfusion to another person, you must be healthy, be at least 17 years old or 16 years old if allowed by state law, weigh at least 110 pounds, and not have donated blood in the last 8 weeks (56 days). 'Healthy' means that you feel well and can perform normal activities. If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, 'healthy' also means that you are being treated and the condition is under control. Other aspects of each potential donor's health history are discussed as part of the donation process before any blood is collected. Each donor receives a brief examination during which temperature, pulse, blood pressure and blood count (hemoglobin or hematocrit) are measured.",1082,0_557_,00.html

While alive, many people donate blood; some people donate bone marrow; few people donate organs. If tragedy strikes, and a loved one dies suddenly, many try to honor the wishes of the one who died. Others don't know what those wishes were.

Questions of the Week:
WHAT would you want for your organs if you were no longer alive to use them? WHAT would you do if you were asked to be a living donor? WHAT would you be willing to donate? WHAT information do you need before you can make these decisions? WHY is it important to think about these things now? WHO should you talk with about your decisions? WHO should you talk with about what they would want? WHEN can you talk to those you need to talk to about the issue of organ donation? HOW can you bring this up in conversation? HOW can you avoid and/or minimize conflict in a family if members disagree about what should be done? WHERE, HOW, and WHY should these decisions be documented?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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