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MICHAEL FOWLER: Organ donations make second chances for life

DOUGHERTY CORONER: Do not let myths prevent you from being an organ donor

Michael Fowler

Michael Fowler

In my line of work, I encounter death pretty much on a daily basis. Some people die at ripe old ages, while others die long before any real aging has begun. We should all note that death is an inevitable consequence of life. One day — hopefully, later rather than sooner — each of us will face death. When that time does come for most of us, there will be no second chances. Each of us, however, has within us the ability to give someone else a second chance at life.

Organ and tissue donation and transplantation provide second chances at life for thousands of people each year. Currently, more than 122,000 men, women and children are awaiting organ transplant in the United States. Organ donation is the process of giving an organ or part of an organ for the purpose of transplantation into another person. By deciding to be an organ or tissue donor, you can give the gift of a second chance – a second chance at life.

Everyone should consider him/herself as a potential organ and tissue donor. The few exceptions to that rule involve those persons who may have an HIV infection, active cancer or systemic infection. No person is too old or too young. The condition of your organs is more important than your age. For example, the liver of someone who is 60 and never drank may well be in far better condition than someone who is 35 with a history of alcohol abuse.

Now, I know it can be hard to think about what’s going to happen to your body after you die, not to mention organ and tissue donation. But you need to know that being an organ donor is one of the most generous things you can do. Organ donations from only one individual could save or improve as many as 50 lives. Some families say that their having donated the organs of their deceased loved ones helped them cope with the loss of their beloved relatives.

Many people are afraid to register to become organ donors because of myths surrounding the process. Some people believe that if doctors know you are an organ donor, they won’t work as hard to save your life in a medical emergency. That belief could not be farther from the truth. A doctor’s first and foremost focus is on saving lives, and he or she is sure to exhaust all measures before making that final call.

Yet another myth is that a person won’t really be dead before doctors remove his/her organs. Again that notion is false. In fact, more tests are given to those who are registered organ donors to fully determine if they are deceased than to those who are not designated donors.

Perhaps the biggest myth of all is that those who are rich and famous go to the top of the list when they need a donor organ. The rich and famous are not given special treatment when it comes to allocating organs. While it may appear as if that group receives preference, their lives tend to generate more publicity when they are faced with major medical issues. Celebrity status and financial net worth are not taken into consideration relative to organ allocation.

As you can see, being an organ donor can make a big difference in the lives of so many others. It is especially important to become an organ donor if you belong to an ethnic minority. Certain blood types are more prevalent in ethnic minority populations, and because matching blood type is usually necessary for transplant, the need for minority donor organs is especially high.

Here in Georgia, Lifelink of Georgia serves as the non-profit organ and tissue recovery agent. They provide organ and tissue for transplantation to approved transplant centers within the state of Georgia as well as throughout the nation. Lifelink coordinators are formally trained in every aspect of the donation process, including the placement and retrieval of life-saving organs and life-enhancing tissues.

The specialized team works in a cooperative environment with nurses and physicians and is available 24-hours a day to counsel families and provide specific services in nursing units. Their collaborative efforts provide hearts, lungs, pancreases, small intestine, livers, kidneys, bone, skin, corneas, eyes and heart valves for patients in need. Now that you have heard the facts concerning organ donation, all that is left for you to do is to register with your state’s donor registry. Once you have registered, make sure you cover all your bases and let others know. Designate it on your driver’s license, talk with your family about your decision, tell your physician and speak to your faith leaders. Today, make the decision to ensure someone will receive a second chance at life.

Michael Fowler is Dougherty County coroner.