By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — A recent story outlined the large number of people in Kentucky who donated money and/or signed up as organ and tissue donors. In fact, 2013 was a record year across the state, although statistics show that even with the huge number of donors, those who are needing organs often die while on the waiting list.
Although designating myself as an organ donor, I never realized the true importance of that act until a few years ago. A middle-aged, obese smoker does not symbolize the best possible health status of an individual, much less the genetic “inheritances” of heart disease and cancer. When asked if I wished to become an organ donor when renewing my driver’s license one year, I agreed, but not without the comment that “I doubt there will be anything of mine they’d want to use.”
I made the same comment again while talking with Roger Schott, circuit clerk, and his reply was one that left a lasting impression.
“Oh, but Nita,” he said. “Your skin, your beautiful skin, could help some child who got burned and needs a skin graft.”
That remark caught me off guard, but made me reconsider my outlook as an organ and tissue donor. I’d never thought of my skin — or any other part of my body — as “beautiful” with the exception of my eyes which were once wide and without wrinkles and bordered by long eyelashes. But to someone whose face has been melted from the heat of fire or other types of burns and abrasions, perhaps even my skin cells would be considered a blessing.
Statistics from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services website outline the definitive need for organ donors of every age. In 2012, over 28,050 people received organ transplants. In May 2009, the percentage of organ/tissue recipients who lived five or more years after their transplant were: kidney - 69.3 percent; heart - 74.9 percent; liver - 73.8 percent; and lung - 54.4 percent No statistics were available for cornea transplants, which enable many persons to avoid eye diseases and potential blindness.
But the need continues. The same website shows that in 2009 there were 14,630 donors and 28,463 transplants while another 105,567 people were on a waiting list. Over the past four years, the need has undoubtedly risen, despite the increase in organ donor sign-ups.
The reality of the situation hit home even more when I learned one of my dear friend’s son awaits a liver transplant. While the family will not know until tomorrow whether a “live” transplant (partial) or a complete liver transplant is required, the dire need of so many persons and their families should serve as incentive for each of us to participate.
Although I grieve when friends and acquaintances lose a loved one, this recent development in my friend’s life prompts me to wonder how many of those people who passed on might have the liver that my friend’s son needs to continue his own life. What a wonderful and generous gift it would be to leave this world knowing you helped save the life of another person or enabled a child to look at the world through new eyes or with skin cells that renew faith in humanity.
If you have never considered becoming an organ/tissue/eye donor, please do so. You may never know whose life you change but the recipient and their families will certainly never forget it.
Visit the website at trustforlife.org to learn more. You’ll be glad you did.