If your biggest health concern is a hangover, organ donation may have never crossed your mind, but your donation could give up to 15 people a second chance to live.
What is organ donation?
Becoming an organ donor means donating your organs after your death to someone who desperately needs them to survive.
Thinking about when you pop your clogs may seem a tad depressing, but signing up to donate your organs is the greatest gift you can give anyone in need of a transplant, so it’s worth thinking about.
More than 20 million people in the UK have signed the NHS Organ Donation Register (a list of people willing to become donors after death). And since April 2013 2,558 people have received the gift of sight and 2,474 people have received transplants.
Types of organ donation
Even if your name’s on the register, there are only three situations where you’ll be able to donate organs:
- Heartbeating donation: If you’re kept on a ventilator (after your death your organs continue to be supplied with oxygenated blood) heartbeating donation is the most successful for transplants.
- Non-heartbeating donation: If your heart has stopped beating, you may still be able to donate certain organs up to six hours after death.
- Live donation: It’s also possible to donate a kidney, part of your liver, lung or (very rarely) small bowel while you’re still alive and kicking.
Which organs can I donate?
- Kidneys: are most in demand because of high levels of kidney disease, with around 1800 kidney transplants last year (almost half of which came from a live donor).
- Liver: There are around 700 liver transplants each year with too much booze being the main culprit for liver disease.
- Heart: Around 200 people a year are given a heart transplant because of severe heart failure.
- Lung: transplants are vital for people with cystic fibrosis, or respiratory conditions (often caused by smoking).
- Pancreas and small bowel: If you have Type 1 diabetes, a pancreas transplant can restore insulin independence and blood sugar levels. Although rare, small bowel transplants can save someone who doesn’t have enough bowel left to absorb nutrition.
You can also donate tissue, such as skin, bone, heart valves, cartilage and corneas, potentially helping up to 50 people have a better quality of life.
How much does it help?
Although over 3,000 transplants are carried out each year, there are currently more than 7,000 people in need of a transplant. Sadly, over 1,000 of these patients will die while waiting. Most of us won’t die in circumstances where we can donate, so it’s important more people sign up.
“By donating, you can dramatically change someone’s life,” says Nicolas Orwin, 22, who had a heart transplant at 16. “Before the operation, I could barely walk and needed a wheelchair. But now everything is a thousand times better. I can do whatever I want, even sports. It’s fantastic. I feel bad that someone died, but I am really grateful to the donor.”
Are there any risks?
If you decide to be a live donor you’ll be undergoing a major operation, so there’s always a risk of complications such as infection or blood clots. You’ll also have to deal with pain and possible scarring from the surgery. You can live a perfectly healthy life with one kidney, but there may be some long-term health effects from donating certain organs while you’re still alive.
You may have some ethical concerns over donating, such as:
- Will doctors fight to save me if they know I am a donor? Don’t worry, your doctors will do everything they can to save you and will only consider donation when there are no other options.
- Will I be left disfigured? No, specialist surgeons will remove the organs and tissue carefully and respectfully.
- Who will get my organs? You can’t choose who gets your organs. They will go to patients who are the closest match to your tissue and blood type.
- Is it against my religion to donate? None of the major religions in the UK object, but if you are concerned, try discussing it with other people in your faith.
I want to sign up
You can put your name on the organ donation register by signing up online, or calling the NHS Organ Donor Line on 08456 060400. You can also register when joining a new surgery or applying for a:
- Driving licence
- Boots Advantage Card
- European Health Insurance card (EHIC)
You can select which organs and tissue you want to donate when you sign up. There are no age restrictions and children can also be put on the register, but the older you are, the less suitable some of your organs might be for transplantation.
You can’t donate organs or tissue if:
It’s important to tell your family if you decide to become an organ donor. They’ll have to confirm it’s what you wanted, which could come as a bit of a shock if you’ve never mentioned it before.
“I think more people would sign up if they knew how easy it was,” says Nicolas. “It’s not something that will affect you until after you’ve gone, and you’re able to give lots of people the gift of life.”
Updated on 29-Sep-2015
Picture of heart by Shutterstock
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