Terry McLaughlin: Consider being an organ donor
March 28, 2018
Easter, at which time we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is considered the holiest of all holy days by most Christians.
Christians believe His death on the cross and resurrection three days later have provided all of us with a path to our own rebirth and eternal life. Even if you do not share this spiritual belief, there is another path to rebirth and renewal which every one of us can be a part of right here and right now.
The simple act of signing an organ donor card can offer another human being a chance at a new life.
Over 120,000 individuals are awaiting an organ, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing 2016 report. Established by the U.S. Congress in 1984 and located in Richmond, Virginia, the United Network for Organ Sharing is a nonprofit scientific education organization which administers the only organ procurement and transportation network in the United States.
According to the organization's data, 22 individuals die each day waiting for a transplant, and one individual joins the waiting list for a suitable organ every 10 minutes.
The good news is that organ transplants performed in the United States reached a record high in 2016, for the fourth year in a row. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, 33,610 organ transplants took place in the United States in 2016. Of those, 27,630 organs were from deceased donors, who often provide multiple organs, and almost 6,000 were from live donors.
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One source of increased donor organs is rooted in the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation. The percentage of donors who have died from overdoses is approaching 25 percent of the donor population in some parts of the country. Although increased donations as a result of drug overdoses is certainly not a trend anyone wants to see continue, the transplant community is committed to trying to make use of all potential donor organs.
Kidneys are the most commonly demanded and transplanted organ, partly because dialysis can prolong the life of a person waiting for this organ. A kidney was the first human organ to be successfully transplanted in 1954. In 2016, over 19,000 kidney transplants occurred, followed by almost 8,000 liver transplants, over 3,000 heart transplants, and approximately 2,300 lung transplants.
Other organs and tissues that can be donated include pancreas, intestines, corneas, skin, tendons, bone, nerve and heart valves. There is no cost to the donor's family or estate for organ and tissue donation, and information about an organ donor is released to the recipient only with the consent of the donor's family. Otherwise, a patient's privacy is maintained for both the donor and recipient families.
Strict standards are in place to ensure ethical distribution of organs. Organs are matched by blood and tissue type, organ size, medical urgency, waiting time and geographic location. Donors are needed for all races and ethnic groups, as transplant success rates increase when organs are properly matched between members of the same ethnic background.
Brandon Castellanos, 18, had learned about the growing need for organ transplants within the Hispanic community and the shortage of Hispanic donors. He had seen several members of his extended family die or suffer from diseases that could have been treated if donated organs had been available.
This experience led Castellanos not only to sign up to be an organ and tissue donor, but also to discuss the issue with his family, leading several other family members to do the same.
Tragically, Castellanos was killed in a motor vehicle accident on June 18, 2006. His simple act of signing an organ donor card and sharing his wishes with his family resulted in his organs and tissues saving or improving the lives of fifty individuals.
From this tragedy emerged the Brandon's Crossroads Foundation Inc., a nonprofit founded by Brandon's mother, Sharon Castellanos, Doctor of Nursing Practice, whose goal is to engage, empower, and educate adolescents about their role in the community and their choices regarding organ and tissue donation.
Enacted in 2012, California State Assembly Bill 1967 insures that information about organ and tissue donation is taught in health and science classes statewide. Adolescents are faced with a decision when applying for a driver's license or permit, and according to Donate Life California data, young drivers between the ages of 15 and 19 are less likely to register as organ and tissue donors than those 20 to 49 years old.
Brandon's Crossroads Foundation Inc.'s vision is to be a leader in this area of adolescent education, with the development of an innovative science-based educational curriculum.
A prospective study design was conducted with students from ten Bay Area high schools and the results demonstrated that an enhanced educational curriculum promoted family communication and discussion of organ and tissue donation among these students. Brandon's Crossroads Foundation's goal is to make this enhanced curriculum program available to all schools throughout California.
The story of Brandon Castellanos is one of altruism and selflessness. Our story is not yet written, but each of us has the ability to honor all the Brandon's of the world, and in our willingness to do so we can literally restore life itself to many individuals awaiting tissue and organ donation.
It's simple. Sign the card. Add that little pink donor dot to your driver's license. Save a life.
Register to be a donor at your local DMV office, or online at organdonor.gov. For more information about Brandon's Crossroads, visit bcfi.info.
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Nevada City, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.