Donate Life: you can’t take them with you
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Not long after birth, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening liver disease called biliary atresia. My liver was destroying itself, and the only way I could survive was if I had a transplant. Thankfully, I did not have to wait very long for an organ; the doctors quickly found that my father was a match. On November 10, 1999, I received a portion of my father’s liver through a successful transplant. Despite the initial positive results of my surgery, the road post-transplant has been strewn with complications. But thanks to my family and the doctors of Boston Children’s Hospital, I conquered each of those obstacles and continue to do so. I have grown into a happy, healthy young woman, with the only traces of transplantation being my surgical scars.
This story — my story — is true. However, for countless families waiting for a life-saving transplant, this sounds like an unreachable fantasy. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, a new man, woman, or child is added to the national organ waiting list every ten minutes. Currently, 118,141 people and counting are waiting for a life-saving organ donation — twenty-two of them will die today.
The country’s lack of organ donors creates an impact felt in hospitals across the nation, particularly in pediatric transplant centers. “Some of our organ programs are experiencing increased waitlist mortality, which means that more children are dying on the waitlist now than previously,” said Laura O’Melia, Director of Transplant Nursing at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Particular organs [are needed] more than others: the lung program, the heart program as well. Not as much for intestine, kidney, or liver because kidney and liver have living donor options, so sometimes that can help prevent waitlist mortality.”
The end is not an easy reality to think about, but it is important to deeply consider what you wish to happen after you’re gone. Your working organs cannot serve you after death, but they can be given to people who need them to live a happy and healthy life.
Lydia Cavanaugh is another pediatric liver recipient who knows the benefits of organ donation. After being diagnosed with biliary atresia, she received a partial liver donation from her mother. She is currently in eighth grade and wants to pursue nursing, and her mother, Dawn Cavanaugh, volunteers with New England Donor Services and travels to high schools to speak about organ donation.
“I tell [the high school groups] that not all people on the waiting list have the option of having a living donor,” Dawn said. “Although living donors can save those that need partial livers and kidneys, some people need a whole liver, or more vessels than a living donor can give to have enough for themselves. The lives saved [through organ donation] have the potential to affect the community or the world in ways we can’t even imagine. You never know how your gift could affect the world.”
Registering to be an organ donor used to be a complicated process, but now it is simple to register online. The new website, https://registerme.org/, is a national registry, as opposed to the former system categorizing people by state.
If you do consider becoming an organ donor, talk to your family about it so that they can ensure the donation is eventually carried out. Remember to share information, and encourage others to think about donation as well.
“I think the most amazing thing about organ donation is that typically it’s deceased donations, so it’s remarkable to me that families, in their worst time of their life, are able to be thinking of someone else — and they’re able to allow someone else, who they may never meet, to grow up and be able to do things,” O’Melia said. “It helps me do my job and is my motivation for going to work every day.”
The gift of life is one of the greatest things you can ensure through organ donation. As April is Donate Life Month, talk with your family about signing up to be a donor.