Organ Transplant

“Don’t take your organs to heaven. Heaven knows, we need them here.” This is a slogan used by the Kidney Foundation of Canada.

Recently, we had “Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week”. This is a good way to remind people like me to sign the Universal Donor Card. So I check with my wife if I have signed one. She couldn’t remember.

I check my driver’s license. The new one has no donor card at the back. I check my Alberta Personal Health Card. I see my wife has witnessed my signature where I make “anatomical gift” of organs and tissues for transplantation and research upon my death.

Well, memory is one thing my wife and I should not donate to anyone!

In any case, events like “organ donor awareness week” reminds us of many things in life which we take for granted.

Donation of solid organs and tissues does not start when life ends. During their lifetime, family members and relatives of potential organ recipients help their loved ones when there is a need for liver, kidney, lung, and bone marrow transplants.

But lot more work needs to be done to encourage such donations after death for potential organ recipients who have no family attachment and are not emotionally related to deceased donors.

Why do we need to do this?

Because 150 Canadians on waiting list for organ transplants die every year. In 1997, more than 3000 Canadians were on the waiting list. Only 1600 transplants were performed due to shortage of appropriate organs.

Alberta has done little better. According to Alberta Health, our provincial donor rate has remained on average about 2 percent above the national rate.

Alberta Health’s Province-Wide Services 1998 Annual Report says that in 1997-98, there were 22 heart, 128 kidney, 31 liver, 126 bone-marrow, and 10 lung transplants in Calgary and Edmonton. This is a total of 317, compared to 291 for the previous year. But this is not enough.

How can we improve the situation?

This can be done by: 1) improving public’s awareness and acceptance of the importance of organ donation, 2) adequately train health care professionals to handle the sensitive issue of discussing the options with a grieving family.

There are 4 major stages to be undertaken before the organ or tissue is available to a potential recipient. These are: recognizing and declaring brain death, notifying the organ procurement organization, presenting the option of donation to the grieving family, and clinical care of the brain dead donor.

This is where the Palliser Health Authority (PHA) has made a difference by setting aside $15,000 to formalize the organ donation process in our region.

“Palliser’s contribution is significant indeed. The program is now up and running,” says Mr John Boksteyn, chair of PHA. Medicine Hat will be the first regional hospital to do this.

So, how can we help? 1) Make a decision to be a donor and share your wishes with your family. 2) Decide if you want your organs and tissues for transplant and/or for research. 3) Sign a Universal Donor Card on the other side of Alberta Personal Health Card.

Organs and tissues which you can donate are: heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, eyes, skin, bone marrow, veins, and pancreas. The list may not be complete. Age restrictions are now minimal. People over 80 years may still be good candidates.

So, think carefully. Make up your mind. Discuss with your family and sign the donor card. Otherwise it will never happen!

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