Be a superhero. You have the power to save up to eight lives and improve the health of 200 people. Register to be an organ, eye or tissue donor.

Every day 21 Americans die waiting for an organ transplant and about 120,000 are on a transplant waiting list. The United States has a critical shortage of organs, eyes and tissue. The need for donors is much greater than the number of people who donate.

Why donate?

Registering as an organ donor could be the difference between life and death for 300 of  your fellow Arkansans who are on the waiting list for a life-saving organ transplant. Hundreds more are waiting for healing eye and tissue transplants.

About 65 percent of Arkansans have already registered their decision to be donors at the time of their death, according to ARORA, the Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Association. ARORA was established in 1987 as a nonprofit, independent, organ procurement agency serving 64 Arkansas counties.

How to register:

In Arkansas, there are several ways to register to be an organ, eye and tissue donor:

  • Visit this
  • Sign up at your local Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Swipe your driver’s license or state identification card through software used by ARORA
  • Visit Organdonor.gov
  • Sign and carry an organ donor card in your wallet. Download the card

Joining a donor registry is more than just an expression of interest in becoming a donor. It is a way to legally give consent for the gift of organs, tissue and eyes.

Let your family and loved ones know your intent to be a donor. You should also tell your doctor, attorney and religious leader that you are a registered donor. If you have given someone your health care power of attorney (to make health care decisions for you if unable to make them yourself), be sure they know you are a registered donor. Include in your living will if you have one; however, your living will may not be immediately available at the time of your death.

What is organ donation?

Organ donation is the process of surgically removing an organ or tissue from one person (donor) and surgically placing it into another person (recipient). This is necessary because the recipient’s organ has failed or been damaged by disease or injury. The donor must have died in a hospital or be in a hospital for living donors. Organs must have a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood to remain suitable for transplantation. When a donor dies, they are put on artificial respiration to keep their heart beating, so blood continues to circulate.

Most organs can be transplanted, including liver, kidney, pancreas, heart, heart valves, lung, intestine, cornea, middle ear, skin, bone and bone marrow, connective tissue, and composite grafts that include several organs and/or tissues such as skin, bone, muscles, blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue.

The recovery of organs, tissue and eyes is a surgical procedure performed by medical professionals. If the donor is deceased, organ donation does not disfigure the body. The family may have a traditional funeral, including an open casket, in most cases.

Since the first successful transplant in 1954, organ transplants have become one of the great life-saving advances in modern medicine. More than 250,000 Americans are now living with transplanted organs.

Who can be an organ donor?

Anyone can be a potential donor, regardless of age. Many organ and tissue donations occur after the donor is declared brain dead. The donor’s organs are evaluated based on medical history and age to determine if the organs are medically suitable for transplantation. A parent or guardian is usually required to give permission for donation from a child under age 18. Many people are living healthier lives and can be donors well into their 60s, 70s or older. The oldest liver donor was 93.

Another donation method is from a living donor. About half of all donations are from living donors and can include one kidney, bone marrow, tissue, or a section of liver or lung. Living donations are arranged though transplant centers according to their criteria. An Independent Donor Advocate will represent the interests and well-being of the potential living donor.

Very few medical conditions keep you from donating, according to mayoclinic.org. The decision about each organ is based on medical standards. You may have certain organs that are not suitable but other organs and tissue may be fine.

It’s especially important for ethnic minorities to consider organ donation. Minorities are more likely to have certain conditions that affect the kidneys, heart, lung, pancreas and liver. Matching blood type is usually necessary for transplants and certain blood types are more prevalent in minorities.

There is no cost to the donor’s family or estate for the donation of organs, tissue or eyes. If the donation is from a deceased donor, the funeral costs remain the responsibility of the donor’s family. The cost of organ removal is paid by the transplant recipient.

Donor registration cannot affect the type or quality of medical care you will receive. If you are sick or injured, the priority is to save your life. Unless the donation is from a living donor, organ donation can only be considered after a doctor has declared brain death, according to UNOS.

Like all medical procedures, a patient’s privacy is maintained for both donors, their family and recipients. Organ donation information is only released to the recipient if the donor’s family requests or agrees to it.

Organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most major religions, including most Protestant faiths, Roman Catholicism, Islam and most branches of Judaism.

If you need a transplant

If your doctor discusses a transplant with you, the first step is to get on the national waiting list. Visit one of the transplant hospitals listed here. After an exam, doctors will decide if you are a good transplant candidate, based on that hospital’s individual criteria for accepting candidates. If accepted, you will be added to the national waiting list. You can get on the waiting list at more than one transplant hospital. When the type of organ you need becomes available, the local organ procurement organization (ARORA for most of Arkansas) sends medical and genetic information to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). UNOS generates a list of potential recipients, based on blood and tissue types, organ size, urgency of the recipient’s illness, time already spent on the waiting list, and distance between the donor and recipient. Thanks to technical improvements, people older than age 50 can receive transplants.

UNOS manages the U.S’ organ transplant system and waiting list under contract with the federal government. UNOS also maintains the transplant database, monitors every organ match to ensure policies are followed, assists patients and family members, educates medical professionals about the donation and transplant process and raises public awareness about the importance of organ donation.

A combination of state and federal laws provides the safest and most equitable system for allocation, distribution and transplantation of donated organs. The federal Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) maintains a national registry for organ matching that is operated by a private, nonprofit organization. Recently, a new system to distribute organs was adopted. The patient with the most urgent need for a transplant has first claim on any organ from a compatible donor within a 150-mile radius, then a 250-mile radius and up to a 500-mile radius. This process will continue with priority given to the sickest people. The previous policy was based on location of donors, which produced a geographically uneven distribution of transplantable organs and tissue.

Organ transplants are expensive so be sure you understand what your insurance will and will not cover. In addition to the cost of surgery and medical care, related expenses can include travel, lodging and post-transplant medications. UNOS maintains an extensive list of financial resources here. Local community organizations or faith groups may also be able to help. Every transplant program has a social worker or financial coordinator who can work with you and advise you on insurance and funding options.

For more information visit The Cleveland Clinic’s  website listing resources for both donors and recipients here. Another good website is organdonor.gov.

YOU have the power to save many lives through organ and tissue transplants. Please consider letting the good in you live on … through organ donation.

 

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