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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 an organ transplant are in a race against the clock, and unfortunately, time is not always on their side. In fact, every day, 17 people die waiting for the life-saving transplant they need.

Almost anyone can be an organ donor, regardless of their health status. However, many people do not register to become donors out of fear. The good news is, those fears are completely unfounded.

“Every organ donor has the power to save eight people and touch the lives of many more,” says Todd Groeber, associate nurse director of Critical Care Services at Abington Hospital – Jefferson Health. “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: 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.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Groeber. “Healthcare professionals will use all of their knowledge, skill, and the tools available to save a life, regardless of whether or not the person is an organ donor.”

In reality, organ donation and the process required to carry it out are only considered after specific medical conditions are met.

“Generally, ambulance crews and ER staff don’t even know if a person is an organ donor when responding to a medical emergency and administering treatment,” adds Groeber.

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: 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. However, 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.

“Every major religion in the U.S. supports organ donation,” says Groeber. “In addition, if a person who donates their organs desires an open casket at their funeral, that is still possible.”

Myth: Your Ethnicity Matters When It Comes to Organ Donation

Organ donors represent virtually every ethnic background in the U.S., roughly in proportion to their representation in the population as a whole. However, for many minority ethnic groups, the demand for organs far surpasses the supply.

Compatible blood types and tissue markers, which affect the quality of the match between the donor and the recipient, are more likely to be found within the same ethnic group. By having more donors from minority ethnic groups in the donor pool, the likelihood for a potential match increases.

Myth: How to Become an Organ Donor

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,” says Groeber. “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, visit www.donors1.org.

 

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