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Facts and Myths About Organ Donation

Critically ill patients in need of an organ transplant are in a race against time, though many are not registered to donate due to fear of the unknown.

Critically ill patients who need organ transplants are in a race against the clock, and unfortunately, time is not always on their side. In fact, every day, 20 people die waiting for a life-saving organ transplant.

Almost anyone can be an organ donor, regardless of their health status. However, many do not take the step of registering to become a donor out of fear, although those fears are oftentimes unfounded.

“Not only can an organ donor save as many as eight people, there are many others who benefit from these donations—like all the people who love and rely on the organ recipient as an important person in their lives,” says Linda Wright, clinical manager for abdominal transplant at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

Unfortunately, misinformation and fear prevent many people from providing this life-saving gift. Here are some of the myths and misconceptions about organ donation.

Myth: Organ Donors Receive Less Aggressive Care from First Responders

The unimaginable happens. There’s a serious car crash or other catastrophic accident that causes life-threatening injuries. Many people mistakenly believe that when the EMTs arrive on the scene, or the accident victim is brought to the hospital, the standard of care they receive will be less aggressive if the patient is an organ donor.

Fact: Healthcare professionals will use their expertise and whatever state-of-the-art technology is available to save a life, regardless of whether the person is an organ donor, says Wright. When ambulance crews or ER staff members respond to an emergency or administer treatment, they often do not know if a patient is an organ donor or not.

Organ donation and the process required to carry it out are only considered after specific medical conditions are met.

When a person experiences a devastating neurologic injury and is brought to the hospital, someone from the clinical team will contact the hospital’s designated nonprofit organ procurement organization (OPO) to inform them of the situation. (The OPO serving our region is Gift of Life Donor Program.)

Representatives from Gift of Life will then come to the hospital to evaluate the patient and determine whether they would be suitable for donation. Full clinical support is continued until the patient:

  • Meets the strict criteria for brain death

Or

  • The family decides to withdraw life support

Following either of those instances, the clinical team and the Gift of Life representatives will discuss the option of organ donation with the patient’s family.

Myth: Organ Donation Causes Problems with Burial and Funeral Services

Another common fear is that donating organs will in some way alter how remains are handled at the end of life.

Fact: Nothing changes after organ donation. Burial plans and funeral services can still be carried out in the same way they would, had a person not donated their organs, according to Wright. Additionally, organ donation does not prevent a person from having an open casket at their funeral.

Myth: Your Ethnicity Matters When It Comes to Organ Donation

Fact: This one is partially true.  Organ donors represent virtually every ethnic background in the U.S., however, for many ethnic groups, the percentage of donors is less than what is found in the general population.

“Organs are not matched according to race or ethnicity, and donors from one race frequently match potential recipients from another,” says Wright.“However, compatible blood types and tissue markers that are used to determine the quality of the match between the donor and the recipient, are more likely to be found within the same ethnic group. Having more donors from  ethnic groups in the donor pool increases the likelihood for a potential match for a recipient from that same group.”

Myth: It’s Difficult to Become an Organ Donor

Fact: Becoming an organ donor is relatively simple and can be done online at the organ donor registry. In addition to the online registry, you can also become an organ donor by selecting “yes” to organ donation when you renew your driver’s license.  If you do, it’s important to tell your family about your wishes so they can make the appropriate decision on your behalf if necessary.

For more information about organ and tissue donation or to register as an organ donor, visit www.donors1.org.

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