As of April 1, 2011, over 110,000 people are awaiting organ or tissue transplants, 860 of which are from Oklahoma, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN).
Interesting fact: humans are born with two eyes, two kidneys, and two lungs, only one of each is absolutely necessary for survival. We are also equipped with a regenerative liver that can grow back the donated portion in about two months.
Early scientific attempts to transplant organs and tissue weren’t completely safe and adequate. However in the early 1950s, major medical breakthroughs allowed for operations never thought possible in the medical field. Today, the process has become more common and safe.
There are two types of possible donors: cadavers and the passive.
Cadavers, the most common of the donor category, must be completely lacking in brain function to be considered by medical professional. The subject must be unable to maintain normal function such as conscious thought, breathing or movement without medical apparatus. The damage must be irreversible and, contrary to popular belief, the cadavers are not dead; they are kept on life support until the required transplant can take place.
Passive, or living and willing, donors agreed to donate an organ or tissue not necessary for their own survival.
Only certain organs and tissues can be donated or recieved including kidneys, hearts, live, lungs, the pancreas and the intestines. Tissues can be heart valves, corneas, bone, skin and connective tissues.
Many stigmas still plague the transplantation process. The most popular being that if a person registers as an organ donor, the doctors will not try as hard to save them. The first priority for any doctor placed in a situation so dire is to save lives. The worst-case scenario, being the patient will never again function without life support, is when the hospital staff considers donation.
Another is the idea that a patient many accidently receive a dirty organ or perhaps the body may reject it. This is again highly unlikely. In the U.S. alone, there are over 200 transplant hospitals devoted to the process. These facilities are linked by the United Network of Organ Sharing, which has developed a website used by medical professionals to screen donors and recipients for compatibility. Only specialized transplant professionals, who are members of the OPTN are authorized to use its information.
The last concern, and most important to the relatives of a cadaver donor, is the graphic alteration or disfigurement of the deceased. The fact is that organ and tissue donation does not affect funeral arrangements. Open casket services are still possible for a deceased donor without worry of disfigurement and notice of the procedure.
Marking a driver’s license or obtaining a donor card does make anyone a complete donor. Oklahoma House Bill 1183 prohibits anyone from overruling a donor’s decision to share his or her organs/tissues if documented on a license or donor card. This bill, however, is only for those 21 years and older. Any donors of lesser age will need to make their wishes clear, for the next of kin must sign a consent form upon death.
Visit lifeshareoklahoma.org for information on becoming a donor and stories about survivors here in Oklahoma.