Fully one-third of all Californians are now registered as organ, eye, and tissue donors, but the gap between them and the number of donors waiting for organs continues to widen.
That’s according to Tracy Bryan, public relations director for Sierra Donor Services, an organization on a continuing quest to sign more people up as donors and now observing National Donate Life Month.
“Today, we celebrate and thank each and every one of the record 11 million people in our state who have signed up on the Donate Life California Registry,” she said. “These heroes for life give hope to the 21,000 people in California who wait for a second chance.”
There are many impressive numbers associated with donated organs. For example, Bryan said over 122,000 men, women, and children are now waiting for organ transplants in the United States. But she noted that more than one-third of those now waiting will die before donors can be found.
For individuals and families whose lives have been extended or improved by organ donations, it’s much more than the numbers. It comes down to the individual donor who decided to make the gift of an organ, an eye, or vital tissue.
Leisa Wilson, of Grass Valley, was 35 and a single mother of three children aged 12, 9 and 7, when a bacterial infection left a hole in her cornea and rendered her nearly blind about 13 years ago.
“It basically stopped my whole life,” she said. “We had to move in with my parents.”
A cornea transplant about nine months later allowed her to see again.
“My donor’s gift of sight made it possible to live my dream of seeing my children play sports, get their drivers’ licenses, graduate from high school and become successful adults,” she said. “I am forever grateful for the chance to see my beautiful family grow up.”
She not only raised her three children, but since then has helped her 10-year partner John Davis raise his five children, two of whom are still at home.
Wilson now works as a unit clerk in the Emergency Department at Auburn Faith Hospital in Auburn.
“I don’t think people realize the power of donating life and functionality,” she said. “Without my transplant I would have been a disabled person at 35. It’s an amazing gift, and what better gift can there be than to give someone else life.”
Katherine Medeiros, president and chief executive officer at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, can also testify to the value of a single donor’s help.
Her son, Michael, was born with cystic fibrosis, the unforgiving, chronic disease that causes the production of thick mucus in the lungs and pancreas.
Symptoms made living difficult and painful. At age 24, Michael’s lungs were down to 20 percent capacity when he received a bilateral lung transplant.
“The transplant quite literally saved his life,” Medeiros said. “It’s been five years since the surgery, and Michael is enjoying the simple pleasures of life with his wife, Lyndsay and their 2 ½ year-old son, Graysen.”
Last year, nearly 29,000 lives were saved in the United States through organ transplants, Bryan said. This was the result of only 8,267 donors, because more than one organ may be taken from a single donor for transplant into people waiting for help. In fact, one person can save eight lives through organ donation, and improve another 50 through tissue donation. And 6,000 of the nearly 29,000 lives saved were the result of living donors – most of whom donated kidneys.
Bryan noted that transplantation is no longer considered experimental. She said it is now considered a desired treatment for thousands of patients with end-stage organ disease. Further, she said recent medical breakthroughs have greatly improved transplant surgery outcomes, now carrying a success rate of more than 80 percent.
Even though her organization has exceeded 11 million registered California donors, more are needed to close the gap between available organs and those who need them, Bryan emphasized. Primarily this is because less than one percent of all hospital deaths meet the medical criteria for organ donation.
Some people may not register because they have unfounded fears or misconceptions, Bryan said. In an effort to clear those up, she explained that people of all ages and medical histories may register, that donor medical care and funeral arrangements will not be impacted, and there are no costs to donor families for transplant procedures. All major religions support or permit organ donations, she added.
Of the 21,000 Californians now waiting for organs, about 1,300 live in counties surrounding Sacramento, Bryan said.
For more information, or to sign up as an organ and tissue donor, visit www.donateLIFEcalifornia.org. Donor registration is also available when obtaining a drivers license.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.