An expert answers questions about organ donations

By registering as an organ donor, everybody can pass on their life-saving legacy to help others in our community.

More than 100,000 Americans are currently on the waiting list for an organ transplant. On average, 20 people die each day because they organs they need to live are not available.

Dr. Ajay Sahajpal, medical director of transplantation for Advocate Aurora Health, offers more information on common donation questions:

Why should I register to become an organ donor?

Organ donation gives others in need a second chance at life. Most Americans support organ donation, but many people overlook the important step of registering as a donor. Donors are often people who die suddenly and unexpectedly. Their families are then faced with making the decision at a time of shock and grief.

Registering relieves your family of this burden. By being an organ donor, you have the power to give the greatest gift of all – and by doing so, your life-saving legacy lives on within others.

What organs can I donate?

There are eight vital organs that you can donate: your heart, kidneys (2), pancreas, lungs (2), liver, and intestines. But donation goes beyond just organs. Tissue donations like cornea, skin, heart valves, bone, blood vessels, and connective tissue can enhance more than 75 lives. And thanks to new techniques in transplantation, you can also now donate your hands and face. When you register as an organ donor, you can specify what organs and tissue that you would like to donate.

Why do minorities have a higher need for transplants?

More than half of all people on the transplant waiting list are from a racial or ethnic minority group. This is largely because some diseases that cause end-stage organ failure are more common in these populations than in the general population. African Americans make up the largest group of minorities in need of an organ transplant.

People of different ethnicities frequently match each other, but organ matches between people from similar genealogical backgrounds often lead to better outcomes, which is why donation from all members of the community is important.

What am I signing up for when I register?

One of the biggest concerns – and misconceptions around organ donation – is that the moment a donor is in a medical emergency that their organs will be donated. That’s not true. It’s important for donors to know that your life always comes first. Doctors work hard to save every patient’s life, but sometimes there is a complete and irreversible loss of brain function. The patient is declared clinically and legally dead. Only then is donation an option.

Can people who have had COVID-19 donate organs?

Day by day, we’re learning more about COVID-19, including the lasting effects the virus can have on our bodies after recovering from more severe symptoms. We know that COVID-19 can do a lot of damage, particularly to lung and heart function. When it comes to COVID and organ donation, all potential deceased donors are tested for COVID-19 prior to offering the organs for transplant. Right now, potential donors who test positive with active COVID-19 are currently not able to donate.

However, if someone recovers from COVID-19, then dies from something unrelated, donation may be possible. As more information is gathered, these guidelines may be reinforced and updated. However, good stewardship of an individual’s gift – and ensuring the recipient’s best possible outcome – is always our top priority.

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