There are certain topics that are incredibly difficult to discuss. Illness, death, and loss top that list for many people, as does organ donation for many others. Despite reservations, fears, and aversions to these topics however, they are realities with which many of us will have to contend. Perhaps these are not the most pleasant issues to discuss, but they can prove, in the most ironic ways, to be both life saving and life affirming.
Organ Donation Defined
Healthy, viable organs can be donated to individuals whose organs no longer function or do so poorly. Before donation and transplantation can occur however, a number of items must be evaluated. For example, donor and recipient blood and tissue types must be carefully screened and deemed compatible. Additionally, the current and projected health status of prospective recipients must be considered. Other key elements in the process of organ donation include medical criticality, the location of the donor and recipient, and the estimated time it would take to get the organ where it needs to be. It is important to note that despite what some may believe, it is medical need that determines who will get an organ and not wealth, popularity, or prestige.
Procurement and Distribution of Organs
The United Network for Organ Sharing, UNOS, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services, DHS, and the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, OPTN, is the organization in charge of the procurement and distribution of organs within the United States. In order to be placed on UNOS’ transplant waiting list, patients must be referred by their attending physician, evaluated by a hospital equipped to handle organ donation, and deemed a good candidate for organ reception.
Though it is called a “waiting list,” organs are not provided in the order in which they have been requested. As an objective, qualified, and professional organization, UNOS is tasked with ensuring compatibility between donors and recipients to the best of their clinical abilities. This can seem frustrating to patients who see others get organs before them, even though they have been on the waiting list for a much longer period of time. But the process, which is based on who dies and when so that others may live, is in large measure, rather unpredictable.
Organs That Can be Donated
Organ donation can take place both before and after a person has died. Organ availability however depends not only on health and medical compatibility, but whether or not the donor is ante or post mortem.
Organs and Products That Can be Donated By the Living
Living patients, provided they meet necessary medical criteria, can donate part of their liver, portions of their pancreas, and sections of their intestines, as well as a single kidney or individual lung. Other vitaly important, life saving products that can be donated include bone marrow, platelets, stem cells, and cord blood.
Organs and Products Donated by the Deceased
While there are many ways to help others while alive, there are even more ways to help save lives after death. By registering in your state, with your local Department of Motor Vehicle Services, or expressing your desire to donate in your advance directives, you can become an organ donor.
Organs and products that can be donated by the deceased include the kidneys, both lungs, heart, pancreas, intestines, corneas, heart valves, skin, and bone. And as of 2014, a set of procedures that allow for the transplantation of vascularized composite allograft (VCA) organs was approved, paving the way for hand and face donations.
The Ultimate Gift
Organ donation is not meant for everyone. Individuals with the best of intentions may be deemed unsafe donors, making the process far more dangerous than it should be. Those experiencing organ failure as a result of longstanding addictions to alcohol or drugs who do not feel they can stop using or imbing even after receiving a transplant, may also not be qualified candidates. And those incarcerated for any number of criminal convictions face ethical and legal considerations, both as organ donors and organ recipients.
Organ donation is and will remain a critical public welfare issue for all of us, no matter how we conduct our lives. That said, the ability to donate organs has proven itself to be the ultimate gift for so many, medically needy transplant patients through the United States and abroad.
Contact Dr. Shahen Kurestian, DC of Body Systems Wellness in Glendale, California to discuss this and any other medical questions or concerns you may have.