Donate Life: Why Should I Be An Organ Donor?
How It All Began
Organ transplantation saw its beginning on December 23, 1954. A kidney was transplanted from a man named Ronald Herrick into his identical twin brother, Richard. The procedure was performed in Boston, Massachusetts at Brigham Hospital by Dr. Joseph Murray and Dr. David Hume. Eight years later these two doctors would be the first to successfully transplant a kidney from a deceased donor. Over the next few years successful lung, pancreas/kidney, and liver transplants would be performed leading up to the first successful heart transplant in 1967. The heart transplant took place in Cape Town, South Africa by Dr. Christiaan Barnard. By 1968, anyone 18 years or older could sign up to donate their organs after their death.
Since these monumental moments in medical history, the world has seen improvements in the transplant process and anti-rejection medications as well as the introduction of new types of transplants such as a small intestine transplant in 1989, the transplantation of a baboon heart into a human being in 1992, and a full face transplant as recently as 2010.
Lori- Within Weeks Post Transplant
Lori- 19 Years Post Transplant
Kelli- Within Weeks Post Transplant
Kelli- Almost a year post transplant
Donors Save Real People
I could give you statistics about the number of lives saved each year because of organ donors. We could talk more about the medical science of transplantation that continues to improve every year. We could discuss the artificial heart that is placed in those waiting for a human organ and how it is increasing their chances of survival while on the waiting list. We could talk about all of these things, but it is often the stories of real people who's lives have been saved that touch people the most. They are the stories that will persuade a person to become a donor.
My life and the lives of my family have been forever changed because of the love and generosity of organ donors and their families. The very first time was back in 1993. My older sister, Lori, as a child suffered from a genetic heart condition known as HCM (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy). In the 1980's, the disease had not been researched much and less was known about causes and treatments as there are today. We knew that increased activity would often cause her to pass out. We knew that she was in a great deal of pain every time this would happen. Her doctors would warn that, if she continued to pass out, one day she might not wake up. That is a terrible thing to have to worry about, especially as a young girl. As careful as we were, there were times her heart rate would increase and she would pass out. As the years passed, more information was learned about the condition; and in the early 1990's our family joined a research study on HCM through the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The program was headed up by Dr. Lameh Fananapazir, a cardiologist who had been studying how pacemakers could impede the progress of the disease and in some cases prevent future thickening. It was here that my other siblings were tested for the disease and found to have it as well, though not as severe as Lori at the time. All but the youngest of my siblings were given pacemakers. Lori's health, however, continued to decline even with the pacemaker. She was eventually told she would need a heart transplant. By this time, she was a young wife with dreams of starting a family of her own. She knew the transplant was necessary, but she feared she would never be able to have a child because of it. As days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months, Lori's heart became so weak that she couldn't move from one place to another without a wheelchair and oxygen. The doctors had given her an estimated lifespan of 6 weeks. It looked as though we would be planning a funeral rather than preparing for a surgery. Lori was only 23 years old. She and her husband received the call not a moment too soon. Immediately they rushed to the hospital where Lori was prepped for transplant surgery. Many nail biting hours later, we received the news that the transplant was successful and Lori was recovering in ICU. We were lucky. In the early 1990's, awareness of the need for organ donors was not nearly as widespread as it is now. Being put on the waiting list was often a death sentence. Way too many people died while waiting for their second chance. A few years after Lori's transplant, she had a baby girl. She named her daughter, Kelly, after the young girl who died and who's heart Lori received. Lori was the youngest heart transplant recipient in Arkansas at the time of her transplant and was also the first heart transplant recipient to have a child in Arkansas. Recently she celebrated her 20 Year Transplant Anniversary with family and friends. Since her transplant, Lori has donated her time to help raise awareness of the importance of becoming an organ donor by volunteering with ARORA (Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency).
My younger sister, Kelli, is the most recent in our family to receive a transplant. Kelli's health did not decline as rapidly as Lori's, however, the longer you live with this disease the thicker your heart muscle becomes. Inevitably, a transplant will become necessary. The medication and the pacemakers slow the progress. They, in fact, do no stop the progress of the disease. Kelli has always been very active, as active as you can be with this heart condition. She has raised two wonderful kids and, when she received the news that she would need a transplant, was awaiting the arrival of her first grandson. At the age of 37, Kelli still had a lot of living to do. It was the summer of 2012 when Kelli's doctors told her that her heart would maybe last one more year. Luckily, waiting lists are not so much a death sentence as they were 20 years ago. More people have become aware of the need for organ donors and more people have made the decision to become donors. By Christmas of 2012, Kelli was admitted to the hospital for monitoring while she waited for a donor. Within weeks, a donor was found. The recovery time, compared to what it was 20 years ago, has improved a great deal. In no time, Kelli was holding her new grandson and enjoying an active lifestyle again with her family. Things are never the same, though, after you have come so close to dying. The daily things you might take for granted mean so much more: a walk on the beach, coffee with a friend, hugging your son, holding your grandson. If it were not for Kelli's heart donor, she would never have experienced these wonderful things again. Kelli participates in an online community of transplant patients and their families. She has made some very close friends. It is a valuable support community that helps people make it through some very difficult times. She is also co-editing for a group called "The Waiting List" where people can share their stories of survival and encourage others. You can read more of Kelli's story there.
My mother died at the age of 45 because of this disease. Her only sister died at the age of 30 because of the disease. Transplants were not options for them. If not for medical science making transplants a more viable option, and of course for organ donors, how many more of my family would we have lost?
How to Become An Organ Donor
There are a few ways you can become an organ and tissue donor. You can sign up for the national registry online. It is quick and easy.
If you have a living will, make sure to include your wishes to be an organ and tissue donor. By doing this, you take the difficult decision out of your loved one's hands during their time of grief. Make sure the hospitals in your area have your living will on file, but also talk to your loved ones about your wishes.
Many states give you the option of indicating on your driver's license that you wish to be an organ donor. Check with your state to see if this option is available to you.
Make the gift of life the last gift you give. Become an organ donor today.
By: Traci Ruffner