This is the time of year when most of us are putting away our holiday gifts, spending money from our gift cards, and re-assessing the gifts that we have given others. Yet the most valuable gift you can give is one that doesn't cost any money- the gift of donating one's organs after death.
Most of us don't even think about this question unless we are at the Department of Motor Vehicles, filling out our application for a renewal of our driver's license, and we are asked to check the box if we want to be an organ donor. LifeSource is the non-profit organization that coordinates organ donations for the upper midwest, including Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and parts of Wisconsin. http://www.life-source.org/about/ Here are a few things that they want all of us to know:
The first priority of medical staff is always to save your life. Only after a person is declared deceased is the topic of organ donation discussed. If you check the box on your driver's license application to be an organ donor, this is entirely different from choosing to be a living organ donor, or giving a willed body donation.
When most of us think of donating our organs, we only think of the major ones; the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and eyes. However, LifeSource reminds us that organ donation also includes tissues, skin, veins, tendons, bones, heart valves, connective tissue and blood. Thus, an organ donor can be responsible for saving more than 60 lives through their one donation!
A lot of people don't know if they can be a donor, due to age or previous health problems. Go ahead and check the box if you're willing to donate, and let the doctors make the ultimate decision based upon their knowledge. As LifeSource points out, people might be able to help even if they don't think that they can, most health conditions do not affect the donation, and the oldest donor was 92 years old!
If you don't specify whether or not you want to be an organ donor, this question will be left up to your family members at the time or your death. Needless to say, your time of death will be an incredibly stressful time to your family, and this is the last thing that they should have to worry about. On the other hand, family members of organ donors have said that when they heard that their mother, father or sibling helped to save another person's life, this was often one of the only happy thoughts they had to help them through their mourning over the death of a loved one.
The process of transferring the organ is paid for by the recipient, not the donor or their family members.
More than 113,000 people are currently waiting for an organ transplant. When the time comes to choose the recipient, the choice is based upon medical urgency, genetic matching and length of time waiting. LifeSource coordinates with the United Network for Organ Sharing, (UNOS,) to fairly allocate donated organs. http://www.unos.org/
The identity of the organ donor, as well as the recipient of the donation, is kept confidential. The exception to this is when both the recipient and the family member of the organ donor want to contact each other. If they would simply like to exchange letters, LifeSource can facilitate this and keep the members anonymous. However, if they both agree that they would like to meet, LifeSource can also arrange for this. LifeSource sponsors social events including an annual picnic where family members of both donors and recipients can come together and celebrate life. For specific stories of how organ donation provided the miracle of life, see the individual stories. http://www.life-source.org/category/stories/
(To learn more about donation of the whole eye or the cornea, see the site for the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank.)http://www.mnlionseyebank.org/
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