From the archives …
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Now here’s something to celebrate – Donate Life America has announced that 100 million people are now registered as organ, eye and tissue donors! For those of us who have received this most precious donation of life, and for those who are now waiting for that same gift, this is indeed wonderful news.
That is a lot of people! Yet even as I recognize that key number, and still think of the number one – the one who was my donor. It’s been a year and five months since I received my transplant, and there is not a day that goes by that I do not think of that 24 year old man and his family. I still don’t know anything about him, except his age. I don’t know if he was in the number of registered donors. I still hope to hear something from his family in response to that thank you letter that I sent to them through my transplant coordinator. I don’t know how to properly let them know of my appreciation (pretty insufficient word) to both him and them.
I believe that I have a two part obligation to my donor and his family. The first is that I must do everything I can possibly do to maximize the gift that I’ve been given. That starts with taking care of the body that now holds that gift. It means that I thank them and God every day for the opportunity that I’ve been given. Indeed, that is the heart and soul of Wellspring Transplant Support Center – that we reach out to all impacted by all aspects of organ/tissue donation to help them optimize their lives. That is the least I can do.
But my perspective comes not only from being on the receiving end of the Gift of Life, but spending many years prior to my need helping people reach that decision to become donors. In that light, it is important that we understand what that 100 million registered donors means. As this is being written there are over 112,000 people on the waiting list to receive a donated organ. From January 2011 to July 2011 there have been 16,416 made possible by 8,132 donors. At first glance, those numbers hide the problem. With 100 million people registering, what I is all the talk about their being a shortage donors? What do you mean people are dying on the waiting list? Math is not my strong point, but I know enough of it to realize that 120,000 is a very small percentage of 100 million. With all those folks registered as donors, covering the need of 112,000 people shouldn’t be a problem, right?
Well, not really. Just because you register as an organ, eye, and tissue donor does not necessarily make it happen. A large percentage of those 100 million people will be declared ineligible for donation because of health history, disease process, and manner of death. Another percentage of that number will be literally ignored because at the time of tragedy a box checked off on a driver’s license is not the first priority on care-givers’ and families’ minds. The first is not something that can be controlled. But the second is.
Here is a shocking fact – if you register as an organ donor, you are put in the position of being a potential donor, if your family, those who will have to give the consent for your donation, are not aware of your wishes and are uncomfortable in giving that consent, most times donation WILL NOT happen! That is why it is critical that you not just register in some directory somewhere, but that you register with your family as well. End of life issues are never fun and uplifting discussions for family get-togethers. But as the importance of advance directives has proven, those discussions very often relieve our loved ones of the “I don’t know what he/she’d want” syndrome. And when difficult situations are presented, the default mode for any family will be that with which they feel the most comfortable. For many, to do the least is that comfort zone – unless they have been told what to do. Please register, if you haven’t, to be a donor. And if you have, thank you. But don’t stop there. Include your directions in your advance directives. And talk to those who love you. Help them in what could be there most difficult of times. Help them to know exactly what you would want. Then it will be more certain that your wishes will be honored.
So, yes, 100 million is a huge number. But a number that big can provide a false sense of security. I’m not sure I can fully understand just how important 100 million is as a number. But I do know that the one person saved this one person’s life. So, yes, 100 million is an impressive number – but in that context, we need to remember that it is just the number one that makes a difference.