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Should I Be an Organ Donor? – Myths, Facts and What to Consider

adult and child hands coming together to form a heart

Medically contributed by Heidi Gustafson, quality care coordinator at Network Health
2/21/2024

Take a look at your driver’s license. In most states, your license will contain a marker, such as the orange “DONOR” dot on Wisconsin licenses, to note that you are an organ donor. If it doesn’t, you may have chosen to not donate your organs upon death. Either way, there’s a good chance you don’t remember making such a decision or why you made it the last time you renewed your driver’s license.

It’s an important decision to make, though. More than 105,000 people across the country are waiting for a lifesaving organ, and 1,500 of those people are in Wisconsin. Every nine minutes, a person is added to the national transplant waiting list, so the need for organ donation is significant.

Understanding Organ Donation

Being a registered organ donor means that your organs or tissue can be donated to a person in need upon your death. In Wisconsin, the Organ and Tissue Donation Program manages the Wisconsin Donor Registry.

The organs and tissues that can be donated include the following list.

  • Heart
  • Kidneys
  • Lungs
  • Pancreas
  • Intestines
  • Liver
  • Hands
  • Face
  • Cornea
  • Skin
  • Heart valves
  • Blood vessels
  • Bone and bone marrow
  • Connective tissue
  • Stem cells
  • Peripheral blood stem cells
  • Umbilical cord blood

Though many people may think of organ donation as something that occurs when someone is recently deceased, those who are willing may also elect to make a living donation. While alive, you can still donate certain body parts, including one kidney and a piece of your liver. Many people will donate to a family member or friend in need, but you can also choose someone else on the organ donation waiting list.

Understandably, volunteering to make a living donation is a major personal decision, and it has a great impact on both the donor and those receiving the organ. If it’s something you are considering, it’s worth noting that the need for a kidney, an organ that you can donate while still living, far exceeds the need for other organs on the waiting list. As of September 2023, there were 88,551 patients in need of a kidney versus 16,962 for other organs.

Currently, 17 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. As an organ donor, you can potentially save eight of those lives with your gift.

[Waiting for the Call: A Network Health Member’s Journey On the Organ Transplant List]

Myths About Being an Organ Donor

So, why don’t people choose to become an organ donor? Reservations about donating while still alive may be more obvious, as they require you to undergo a surgical procedure and the removal of a body part while still living. As safe as it may be these days, it may still be uncomfortable for many.

The reasons why some may be hesitant to donate their organs upon passing away are much more varied. Many of these are based on myths that simply aren’t true.

Myth – "Hospital staff won’t try as hard to save me if they know I’m an organ donor."
Fact – A health care team’s job is to provide you with the best treatment and save your life in a life-threatening scenario. You can expect to receive the best care possible.

Myth – "Organ donation is against my faith."
Fact – Your personal faith is just that… personal. But most major faiths, including Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism and most branches of both Judaism and Protestant faiths accept organ donation.

Myth – "I’m too old or unhealthy to donate my organs."
Fact – Though there are some medical conditions that may disqualify an organ from being donated (though other organs could still be donated), there is no cutoff age for organ donation. Either way, if you’re willing to donate your organs, the health care team will decide at the time of your death whether your organs or tissues can be donated.

Myth – "My family will have to pay money for me to donate my organs when I die."
Fact – A donor’s family does not pay for the donation. The only bill they may receive is for any life-saving treatments administered to you. Those who receive the organs pay the cost for both their removal and transplantation.

How Are Donated Organs Matched with Their Recipient?

As mentioned, when you’re a living donor, you’re able to choose who receives your organs or tissues, as long as you’re a match. When donating after death, a health care team will make that decision.

So, how do health care professionals know if someone is a good match for your organs? Some common factors that are considered include blood type, body size and medical condition.

Who receives your organs may depend on how long a patient has been on the waiting list and how far they are from your location. Each organ is treated differently. For example, a heart can only survive outside the body from four to six hours, and therefore the organ is first made available to those in need near the donor’s hospital. A kidney, however, can survive outside the body for up to 48 hours, allowing doctors to consider patients who live further away.

How to Become an Organ Donor in Wisconsin

If you’re in Wisconsin and are interested in being an organ donor, you may want to first check to see if you’ve already joined the donor list through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Just check your license for the orange dot that says “DONOR” on it.

If you have not joined the Wisconsin Donor Registry, you can easily do so online by providing some information through the link below. Doing so legally authorizes your organs, tissues and eyes to be gifted when you pass away.

 


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