Are you on the organ donor register? Would you be willing to sign up, to give life to someone else? Have you told your friends and family what you want to happen, should the question of organ donation arise? This week is Transplant Week. Raising awareness of the need for more people to register as organ donors to save lives.
Emotive questions, I know, and often difficult ones, not talked about, amongst family members, because, in reality, now one wants to think about dying, or about their loved ones dying, or the possibility of having to talk to medical professionals about organ donation.
My first job as a paediatric nurse, after I qualified, was working at a hospital in London, in surgical theatres. I learned to be a “scrub” nurse, assisting and working closely with surgeons, performing life saving operations, on very sick children, from the UK and from other parts of the world. I was very fortunate to spend time with some of the best and most skilled surgeons, and nursing staff, and learned a lot. I spent nearly a year working in Urology and Nephrology, and have seen more than a handful of kidney transplants and I was also very lucky to see two live heart transplants, whilst working one weekend. I have to say, the most thrilling thing, is seeing the donated organs put into the transplant patient, they are connected up (and this is a very delicate and often tricky process) and then the anxious wait to see if they start “working”, the “new” heart starts to beat and the patient can be taken off the bypass machine they have been on whilst their old heart was removed, , the kidney changes colour to a healthy, functioning pink and urine appears in the catheter attached to the transplant patient. It’s pretty miraculous, and a huge sigh of relief goes round the team, knowing that at least, this first step, has been accomplished, in giving the patient a chance of life, and better health.
Of course, the actual transplant is not really the first step, the act of organ donation, itself is. Whilst one patient, or even many, when all or more than one organ is donated, are getting a chance at a new start to their lives, someone, somewhere, has sadly, lost theirs and family members are facing the agony grief, pain, and saying goodbye. It’s a very sensitive time, and often, being approached about the topic of organ donation can be upsetting, and hard to deal with. I have sat with families, who have made that decision, knowing that the child, wife, mother, that they love is dying, but that they can give life to someone else. It’s painful and yet selfless at the same time.
There are many, many more people on organ transplant waiting lists in the UK, than there are organs available for transplant. Some of those will never get the transplant they desperately need, some will be lucky enough to be matched to either a live donor, or what is known as a cadavaric donor (someone who has died, but who’s organs are donated) and be able to live an improved quality of life, with many years ahead of of them.
“Every day three people die while waiting for an organ transplant and many others lose their lives before they even get on to the transplant list. There is a serious shortage of organs and the gap between the number of organs donated and the number of people waiting for a transplant is increasing.
Transplants are very successful and the number of people needing a transplant is expected to rise steeply due to an ageing population, an increase in kidney failure and scientific advances which mean that more people are now able to benefit from a transplant.
However, the number of organs available for transplant has remained static over the past five years. Only a very small number of people die in circumstances where they are able to donate their organs. Because organs have to be transplanted very soon after someone has died they can only be donated by someone who has died in hospital. Usually organs come from people who are certified dead while on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit, generally as a result of a brain haemorrhage, major accident like a car crash, or stroke.
The numbers of people, particularly younger people, dying in these circumstances is falling, mainly because of welcome improvements in road safety, medical advances in the treatment of patients and the prevention of strokes in younger people.
Another major reason for the shortage of organs is that many people have not recorded their wishes about donation or discussed it with their families. Too few people have joined the NHS Organ Donor Register and made sure that their families know their wishes.
While only a very few people die in circumstances which would enable their organs to be donated, many people can donate tissue after their death. Scientific and medical advances in the treatments that are available for patients has led to an increased need for donated tissue.” (Organ Donation, NHS)
To increase the numbers, people are encouraged to sign the Organ Donor Register (click, you can go to the website) and to also discuss their wishes with their family, and those closest to them, who would be the ones who would know what they would want, in circumstances where the subject of organ donation was approached. Currently, in England, there is no “opt in” or “opt out” system. Many organisations would like to have a system where everyone over 16 is considered as an organ donor, unless they have specifically signed a register to opt out. This is a tricky process to manage, with many ethical, emotional, and legal issues to consider, so currently, you can sign on to be registered as a potential organ donor, but there is no assumption that you are willing, automatically. Other countries have an “opt out” system, and have seen the numbers of organ donations rise steadily. I have been doing some reading up on the opt out system, and how it works, as it has recently been introduced in Wales.
I feel very strongly about organ donation. If I were to die, or be dying, and my organs or other part of my body, were considered suitable for transplant, I would like that to happen. I have signed the register, and LSH, and my father and brother, know this is my wish. We will explain and discuss this with the children, when they are a little older, so they also know what I want. LSH is also registered, and I know that if it came to a decision, he would want to be able to help other people live, when he could not. It’s not easy to talk about dying, and what we want to happen to us and our bodies, but it’s much easier to talk about it, with your family, so that you can say why, and what you would like to happen. If you can, also write down your wishes, in a will, or legal document, so that when the question is asked, the answer is there.
We also would donate our children’s organs. It makes me go cold inside, to think about that ever being an option, but I also know that if we could, we could be giving another child or children a chance at life, and that would mean a lot to me, and helping another parent and family would mean that something of my child was living on.
I would love to know that anyone reading this blog post, who hasn’t considered registering as an organ donor, has now thought about it, and signed the register, and talked to their loved ones about it.
So, will you? When you have gone, give the chance of life to someone else. You would be amazed at what parts of your body can be donated and used, to give someone else an improved quality of life, and allow them to live for years longer than they would, with their current medical conditions. Please think about signing the register, talk to your family and your next of kin, so they know. Discuss it while you can, so that if the time comes, it’s not a hard, heart wrenching decision, but something that they know you want to be done.
Watching a heart start to beat, pretty amazing. Knowing that maybe, I could do that for someone else, when I am gone, life changing!