Monday, May 16, 2011

Organ Donation & Transplantation: Separating the Myths from the Facts, or Don’t Believe Anything You See on Grey’s Anatomy

First off, I need to thank my wife, Trine, for supplying me with the information here. She’s a med student, and has been immersed in the world of organ donation & transplantation since she received her liver transplant at age 2. I am relatively new to this whole business. Long story very short: I was born with a liver disorder called Biliary Atresia, had surgery has a baby, and it held until I was 26 years old, in the summer of 2007. Then everything changed. My liver began to fail, and I was told I needed a liver transplant in order to save my life. In May 2008, just about three years ago, I received my transplant. I had about 6 months of post-transplant complications, but have been doing great since then. I’ve gotten the chance to talk to a lot of folks about my experience and about organ donation in general. Many of these people have sick or transplanted children, and it’s pretty cool to be able to offer inspiration or helpful words to people going through what I went through.

But there’s a lot of bullshit out there, especially in the way organ donation & transplantation is portrayed in your favorite medical dramas on TV. For example, Grey’s Anatomy. I start throwing things when I see doctors on TV screaming at a dead boy’s parents about how they have to donate their dead son’s organs right now, in order to save the life of a young girl, etc, etc, I just turn to Trine and say, “Well, we just lost another bunch of organ donors.” Sadly, many people believe what they see on TV. Right now, I am trying to say that when it comes to organ donation & transplantation, please DON’T.

Myth: I am too old to be a donor.

Fact: Anyone can be a potential donor regardless of age or race. Each potential donor is referred to the local organ recovery agency to evaluate if they are medically eligible to donate. Currently, patients with a history of malignancy, HIV, or Hepatitis B Surface Antigen are not eligible donors.

Myth: Only abdominal organs can be transplanted.

Fact: Transplantable organs include: Liver, Heart, Lungs, Kidneys, Pancreas, and Small Bowel. You can also donate tissues and bone marrow.

Myth: If I’m an organ donor, the doctors won’t work as hard to save me.

Fact: If you are sick or injured and admitted to the hospital, the number one priority is to save your life. Organ, eye and tissue donation can only be considered after you are deceased. No investigative or oversight agency has ever found evidence of poorer care in organ donors occurring. It is not standard procedure for the paramedics or emergency department doctors to look for a donor card. Though, they may steal your Dave and Buster’s card. A patient cannot be considered for organ donation if they don’t have a breathing tube in place and stabilized blood pressure.

Myth: Saying, “I’d like to donate my organ to her, if you know what I mean” is a hilarious and clever way of saying you’d like to have sex with a woman

Fact: Is it not.

Myth: They’ll take out my organs before I’m dead.

Fact: Donation is not offered to a family until a patient is dead by every clinical definition. “Brain death” is the medically, legally, and morally accepted determination of death. That means that there is no blood flow or oxygen to the brain. The brain is no longer functioning in any capacity and never will again, not unlike the audience at an average Oprah show taping. Two licensed physicians must make the diagnosis before the organ donation process can begin.

Fact: There are two types of cadaveric organ donation– donation after brain death and donation after cardiac death.

Brain death is defined as the complete and irreversible loss of all brain function including the brain stem. Donation after brain death is the classic model of organ donation and what most people think of.

Donation after cardiac death is offered to families after they have made the independent decision to withdrawal artificial support of their loved one. The patient is brought into the O.R., artificial support is withdrawn, and asystole ensues. Several minutes after asystole, the organs are recovered for transplantation. Asystole is a fancy-pants way of saying “the patient has flat lined.”

Myth: Rich and famous people get moved to the top of the waiting list.

Fact: When you are on the waiting list for an organ, what really counts is the severity of your illness, time spent waiting, blood type, and other important medical information. The system of allocation does not factor wealth or social status. Race, gender, age, income, or celebrity status is never considered when determining who receives an organ. Please note this does not apply those in Arizona. If you live in Arizona, and you need a transplant, and you are not rich, then you are screwed.

Myth: Criminals steal organs to sell on the black market.

Fact: It is illegal to sell an organ. It is possible to give a kidney, liver, or lung while living. However, as George Lopez’s wife is finding out, you can not ask for it back in the divorce. A doctor found performing a transplant of stolen or sold organs would have their medical license revoked. There are no documented cases of stolen organs and there is not a black market for organs in the United States. There is, however, an active market in other countries. So, if you have functioning organs, it’s best not to travel outside of the United States.

Myth: My religion doesn’t approve of organ donation and transplantation.

Fact: All major religions in the United States support organ, eye, and tissue donation and see it as the final act of love and generosity toward others. Also, some made-up religions do, too. May the Fonz be with you.

Myth: I want to have an open casket funeral, therefore I can’t be an organ donor.

Fact: An open casket funeral is possible for organ, eye, and tissue donors. Through the entire donation process the body is treated with care, respect, and dignity. Which is a nice change, considering people who are alive aren't always treated with care, respect, and dignity.

Myth: Organ donation will add to my hospital bill.

Fact: There is no cost to the donor or their family for organ or tissue donation. Sadly, I know someone who was told this for years by a friend, and it stopped them from being an organ donor for a very long time.

Fact: 18 people die every day waiting for the gift of life. To register as a potential organ donor, visit today!

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