For someone waiting for an organ transplant, hope is tempered with the knowledge that the gift they so desperately need will
come only when someone else’s life ends. But for the families of donors, knowing their loved one’s organs are helping someone else live on can be a tremendous comfort.
“The idea of organ donation used to kind of creep me out,” says Lauren Helmreich. When her mother, Carla, died five years ago, Lauren gained a new perspective. “It’s cool knowing that while my mom isn’t here, she’s living on through someone else. Now that I’ve seen the impact, I’ve become an organ donor myself.”
According to Brooke Connell, marketing and public relations specialist with the Midwest Transplant Network, approximately 21 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant, and a new name is added to the national waiting list every 10 minutes.
Based on information provided by the United Network for Organ Sharing, there currently are 1,852 people in Missouri awaiting life-saving organ transplants.
Although there’s a tremendous need for organ donors, some common myths keep many people from registering. Connell says she thinks “some television shows and movies perpetuate the myths associated with organ donation,” adding that MTN tries to address the myths through its community education effort and with its marketing.
“With our marketing campaign, we try to show that regardless of what you look like, how healthy you are or what age you are, you could still potentially be a donor. It’s a chance for you to extend your legacy and change someone’s life for the better.”
Common Myths About Organ Donation
Myth: “If I’m an organ donor the hospital staff won’t work as hard to save my life.”
Truth: The medical team treating you is separate from the transplant team, and its goal is to save your life. MTN is not notified until all life-saving efforts have failed.
Myth: “The hospital might jump the gun and declare me dead when I’m really not, because it wants to use my organs.”
Truth: Actually, people who’ve agreed to be organ donors undergo more tests (at no charge to their families) before they’re pronounced dead than those who haven’t signed up to be donors.
Myth: “I’m not healthy enough to be an organ donor.”
Truth: At the time of death, MTN will review medical and social histories to determine donor suitability on a case-by-case basis.
Myth: “I’m probably too old to donate.”
Truth: The decision to use organs is based strictly on medical criteria, not age. There have been donors as old as 93.
Myth: “My religion doesn’t approve of organ donation.”
Truth: Most major religions have no problem with organ donation, typically considering it a generous act that is the individual’s choice.
Myth: “I’ll have to have a closed-casket funeral.”
Truth: The donor’s body is clothed for burial, so no signs of organ donation can be seen. Bones that are donated are replaced with rods, while donated tissue is taken from the donor’s back. No one will be able to tell that you were an organ donor when viewing your body.
Myth: “I’m not 18, so I’m not allowed to donate.”
Truth: Legally, that’s true. But your parents can authorize the decision. Let them know that you want to be an organ donor and they can give their consent. Plenty of children are in need of organ transplants and they usually need smaller organs than those of an adult.
Myth: “My family will have to pay if I donate my organs.”
Truth: The person receiving the transplant pays the costs for organ removal. The family of an organ donor is never charged.
Myth: “People who are wealthy or famous get preferential treatment when they need an organ transplant.”
Truth: A person’s financial situation is never considered; neither is celebrity status. Although there can be a lot of publicity generated when someone rich or famous receives a transplant, they are treated no differently than the average person.
Myth: “I heard you can get paid for donating your organs.”
Truth: Absolutely not. It is against the law. Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act in 1984 to outlaw the buying and selling of human organs in this country.
Steps To Becoming An Organ Donor
1. Sign up at the Missouri Organ Donor Registry. To confirm your intention to be an organ donor, begin by registering with the state organ donor database at Donate Life Missouri. It takes just a few minutes to register online. After your death, medical personnel will search the state donor registry and easily locate your wish to be a donor. In Missouri, you can also register by mail.
2. Use your Missouri Driver’s License to show you are an organ donor. When you get a new driver’s license in Missouri, you will be asked whether you would like to be an organ and tissue donor. If you say “yes,” a red heart with a green banner will appear on the front of your license, and your information will be forwarded to the state organ donor registry. (This means that, if you’ve used your driver’s license to indicate that you want to donate, you don’t have to register online.) When you receive your license, you should sign the back with permanent marker and have two witnesses sign it, too.
3. Include organ donation in your durable power of attorney for health care. In addition to signing up with the Missouri Organ Donor Registry and using your driver’s license to indicate that you want to be an organ donor, it’s a good idea to include your desire to donate in your important estate planning documents, especially your durable power of attorney for health care. (It’s not always helpful to include your organ donation wishes in your will, because it may not be found and read until it is too late to donate.) Covering these bases helps to ensure that your wishes will be known and followed.
4. Tell others that you are an organ donor. If you’ve documented your wishes to be an organ and tissue donor, your wishes must be honored whether or not others agree with your choice. Nevertheless, to avoid confusion or delays, it’s important to tell others that you feel strongly about donating your organs. Consider discussing the matter with family members, your health care providers, clergy and close friends.
If you don’t document your intention to be an organ donor, these conversations are critical, because your next of kin will make the decision about whether or not to donate your organs.