Becoming an organ donor is a selfless act that shows you have the heart to help others should tragedy unexpectedly strike. Transplants give hope to thousands of people with organ failure and provide others with active and renewed lives.
In order for a person to become an organ donor, blood and oxygen must flow through the organs until the time the organ is recovered. That means most donors die suddenly from things like aneurysms, strokes or automobile accidents. Only after all efforts to save the patient’s life have been exhausted and brain death has been declared is donation a possibility.
There are currently about 124,000 people in the United States waiting for an organ donation. In the three states where UnityPoint Health® operates, the list includes over 600 people in Iowa, over 5,000 in Illinois and over 2,300 in Wisconsin. Deceased donors can save up to eight lives when doctors transplant organs from a donor to a recipient. Donors can also provide eye and tissue donations to help dozens of others.
Being an organ donor isn’t only an option for those who’ve passed away. You can also give the gift of life by becoming a living donor. The first successful living donor transplant was performed between 23-year-old identical twins in 1954.
Kidneys are the most frequent type of donation from living donors. However, individuals can also donate portions of the liver, a lung, the pancreas or the intestine. For kidney donors, the remaining kidney will enlarge slightly to do the work that two kidneys usually share. The liver has the ability to regenerate and regain full function. Lungs and pancreas do not redevelop, but donors don’t typically experience problems with reduced function. Experts usually consider people for living donation if they are between the ages of 18-60 years of age. The usual recovery time after the surgery is between two and six weeks.
There are several different types of living donors:
- Related or healthy blood relative of the transplant candidate. This can be a brother, sister, parent, child over the age of 18 or any other blood relative.
- Non-Related is a healthy individual who is traditionally emotionally close to a transplant candidate. This can be a spouse, in-law, close friend or co-worker.
- Non-Direct, or anonymous donors, are those who are not known to the transplant candidate.
- Pair donation is an option for those who are willing to be a donor but don’t match their candidate. This type of exchange happens when two (or more) kidney recipients trade donors so each recipient can receive a kidney from a compatible donor.
Whether becoming a living or deceased donor, you are leaving behind a lasting legacy that’s changed one or more lives forever. Donors give some recipients a second chance at life. For others, an organ transplants mean no longer having to depend on costly routine treatments to survive, allowing many to return to a normal lifestyle with free or reduced pain. While it’s always difficult to lose a loved one, organ donor families often take comfort in the fact that their loss has translated to new life for others. Donation can often lead to a sense of healing for those who are suffering.
Learn more about organ donation or sign up to become a donor in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.