Become an Organ Donor and Save a Life

I have four simple words for you: organ donation saves lives. However, many people are still not sold on the importance of becoming an organ or tissue donor.

Did you know that there are currently more than 100,000 people in the United States who are patiently waiting for a life-saving organ transplant? Better yet, do you know a family member, friend or co-worker whose life is delicately teetering back and forth on the health scales because of the urgent need of a new kidney, liver or maybe even a heart?

Today, as you read this column and go about your day, 18 people will die before the organs they need become available. While some living donor-to-donor transplants can remedy the health problem, it often takes a deceased donor to give a critically ill person a new lease on life. As a result, organ donation is a conversation that can make many people feel uncomfortable. But it is an imperative conversation that we all need to have with our loved ones.

I have never been through the organ transplantation process but one day I may have to. Six years ago I was diagnosed with a bile duct disease that affects my bile ducts and my liver. I still remember the day a doctor told me that I possibly had bile duct cancer and would need a liver transplant. I was shocked and absolutely speechless. I was in my first year of law school at Southern Methodist University (SMU) Dedman School of Law and all I knew is that I grew up wanting to be a lawyer. There was no way that I would let what I considered a “health hiccup” get in the way of me achieving my lifelong dream.

So while I learned about such law school subjects as contracts, torts, civil procedure, constitutional law and family law; competed in mock trial competitions; and represented abused and neglected children in the SMU Law child advocacy clinic, I educated myself about the myths and benefits of organ donation and organ transplantation. Below are a few:

Myth: I will have to go through a complicated process to become a donor.

Fact: All you have to do is make the personal decision to become a donor and then register your choice at www.donatelife.net.

Myth: Signing up to be an organ donor will affect my medical care if my doctors know I am an organ donor.

Fact: The medical teams involved in medical treatment are completely separate from the organ procurement teams that recover organs for transplantation. Organ procurement teams are not called in until all life saving measures have failed.

Myth: If I’m doing estate planning, or writing a will, I’m way too old to be an organ and tissue donor.

Fact: There are no age limitations on being either an organ and tissue donor or a recipient of organs and tissues. While age is a consideration, because of the shortage of donor organs and tissues, every case is an individual medical call and depends on the health of organs and tissues rather than chronological age.

Myth: It will cost my family for me to donate my organs or tissues.

Fact: All costs for donation are borne by the organ or tissue agency involved in the donation.

Myth: Organ donation affects funeral and burial arrangements.

Fact: The removal of organs and tissues is a sterile surgical procedure. The surgery is usually complete within 24 hours of death, and the donor’s body is sent to the funeral home.

Today, organ transplants are common and successful. After receiving a transplant, patients return to work and to caring for their family and friends. Unfortunately, the most serious issue for those in need of a transplant is the lack of available organs.

In one simple step you can help change that. All you have to do is make the personal decision to be a donor and register your decision on Donate Life America’s website at www.donatelife.net. By taking just a minute to register, your decision is official and no one can overturn your choice. Registering also takes the burden of making such a heartfelt decision off of your family at an already difficult time.

As for me, it turns out the doctor was wrong. I do not have bile duct cancer and so far I have managed to avoid being put on the liver transplant list. I graduated on time and cum laude from SMU Dedman School of Law and I passed the Texas bar the first time. I fulfilled my childhood dream of becoming an attorney, but now my main goal in life is to educate others about the importance of organ donation.

Nefeterius Akeli McPherson is the press secretary for United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

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