2005-09-29 / Savvy Senior

Savvy Senior


Can you tell me about becoming an organ donor? A friend of mine recently died waiting to get a kidney and it got me thinking about becoming a donor. My questions are, at 62 years-old am I to old to be a donor? And, is checking the organ donor box on my driver’s license all I need to do?

Donating Donna

Dear Donna,

When it comes to organ transplants, the demand has always been much greater than the supply. In the United States alone, more than 89,000 people are on the waiting list for transplant surgery, and every 13 minutes another name is added. Here’s what you should know.

Donating Facts

There’s no set age limit to being an organ and tissue donor. People of all ages and medical histories should consider themselves potential donors. In fact, there are many people well up in their 80’s that donate. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissue can be donated.

Organs that can be donated include the kidneys (by far the highest in demand with more than 60,000 on the waiting list), liver, lungs, heart, pancreas and intestines. Tissue is also needed to replace bone, tendons and ligaments. Corneas are needed to restore sight. Skin grafts help burn patients heal and often mean the difference between life and death. And heart valves repair cardiac defects and damage.

Before considering organ donation, many people have to get past a common and unfounded fear that your organs will be harvested when you still have a chance to live. But the truth is that if you are sick or injured and admitted to the hospital, the number one priority is to save your life. Organ donation can only be considered if you die (or are declared brain dead by a physician) and after your family has been consulted.

Savvy Fact: Every day, about 74 people receive an organ transplant, but another 17 people on the waiting list die because organs aren’t available.

How to Donate: Various polls suggest that plenty of people would like to become organ donors but they simply don’t know how. A survey done by the Coalition on Donation found that while 9 out of 10 Americans support organ and tissue donation, only 3 out of 10 know the proper steps to take. If you want to become a donor there are several steps you should take to ensure your wishes are carried out - beyond just checking the box on your driver’s license. The extra steps include:

• Living will: Include on your living will your wishes of being an organ and tissue donor. If you don’t have a living will or advance directive, you can easily make one on your own. Visit www.caringinfo.org or call 800-658-8898 to get free state-specific forms and instructions.

• Register: Add your name to your state’s donor registry (if they have one) and fill out a uniform donor card and carry it in your wallet. You can do all this at www.donatelife.net or call 800-355-7427.

• Tell your family: While most American’s support organ donation, few have told family members their decision to donate. It’s also wise to tell your doctor too.

Savvy Resource

• United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS): All organ procurement and transplants in the U.S. go through UNOS. To learn more or receive free publications on organ and tissue donation and transplants visit www.unos.org or call 888-894-6361.

• MatchingDonors.com: A nonprofit Web site that helps patients in need of an organ transplant promote themselves and take an active role in the search for an organ. Visit www. matchingdonors.com or call 781-821-2204.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org.

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