Whether be-ribboned with silk or cut out of red construction paper, you can’t help notice the prevalence of hearts this month. Just like all shades of pink have been used to brand breast cancer awareness, “Go Red!” is the mantra of February, American Heart Month.
And with good reason. Heart disease is the number-one cause of death of women 20 and older. In fact, 82 million Americans have at least one or more types of cardiovascular disease. There are certainly many reasons to maintain a healthy heart and many enjoyable ways to do it, but there is a special relationship between humans and their hearts (and livers and kidneys and corneas) that are worth a little extra discussion this month.
There are thousands of people waiting for any number of organ transplants at this very moment. As of 11:18 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 8, there were 72,230 people awaiting organ transplants (all organs, not just the heart). Each day, an average of 75 people receive organ transplants. However, an average of 20 people die each day waiting for transplants that can’t take place because of the shortage of donated organs.
Last year, there were 86 heart donors in the State of New York. I was frankly shocked to find the number so low. When a family is confronted with the sudden, traumatic and fatal injury of a loved one, chances are, unless the injured person has stated his/her wishes, the family may have no idea if organ donation is even a desired wish.
I think the main reason for this organ shortage is a lack of education about organ donation, so as a public service I share the following facts from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services:
Fact: Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up to be a donor. The transplant team will determine whether donation is possible at the individual’s time of death.
Fact: Most major religions in the United States support organ donation and consider donation as the final act of love and generosity toward others.
Fact: If you are sick or injured and admitted to a hospital, the number-one priority is to save your life.
Fact: When matching donor organs to recipients, the computerized matching system considers issues such as the severity of illness, blood type, time spent waiting, other important medical information and geographic location. The recipient’s financial or celebrity status or race does not figure into the equation.
Fact: An open casket funeral is usually possible for organ, eye and tissue donors. Through the entire donation process, the body is treated with care, respect and dignity.
Fact: There is no cost to donors or their families for organ or tissue donation.
Fact: Every state provides access to a donor registry where its residents can indicate their donation decision.
Fact: Federal law prohibits buying and selling organs in the U.S. Violators are punishable by prison sentences and fines.
Fact: People can recover from comas, but not brain death. Coma and brain death are not the same. Brain death is final.
Giving the “Gift of Life” may lighten the grief of the donor’s own family. Many donor families say that knowing other lives have been saved helps them cope with their tragic loss.
Here is how to get started:
On the website www.organtransplants.org, there are two cards you can download and sign indicating your preferences. One you can carry on your person and the other is to be given to your family. There is also an option to send an e-mail to your friends and next of kin letting them know what organs you want to donate, however I can see how that e-mail, without any prior discussion, could freak a few people out. I say, start with the cards and move from there.
While it is always wise to maintain a healthful lifestyle that keeps your heart healthy and allows you to live a long and happy life, there is something especially generous about living this kind of life so that if you are in a position to donate a heart, or an equally vital organ, you can help save another person’s life.
If you have plans to spend this coming Valentine’s Day with a loved one, have a glass of heart-healthy red wine and begin the conversation about organ donation. It is absolutely a gift from the heart that keeps on giving.
While it’s best that these conversations occur before there is any need to act on them, they can occur at any time. My family made the decision to donate my father’s eyes 30 minutes after he passed. While my father never mentioned his feeling pro or con, we figured it would be the kind of thing he would do.— John Henderson / February 9th, 2011 at 7:21 am
I think it is also worth noting that although your dad had many illnesses that would otherwise not make him a viable organ donor, his eyes could still be given to those in need, illustrating that organ donation is a possibility even when you think it might not be.— Abby Spilka / February 9th, 2011 at 8:58 am
When my father passed away suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage, we made the decision as a family to donate his corneas and liver. As it turned out, the liver recipient was a woman near my own age, whose life was transformed by this gift. As a result of this life-saving organ transplant, she was able to recover fully, and she and her husband welcomed a baby girl from Guatemala into their family. To know that my father’s life is already making an impact on future generations is a blessing to all of us. And since he spent his life doing good as a member of New York’s Finest, we are certain that he would be thrilled that even after his passing, he continues to impact the world in a positive and meaningful way.
In my dad’s honor, the back of my driver’s license is signed and ready for any eventuality.