Awareness helps increase number of organ donations

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, August 1, 2000

More and more families who have lost their own loved ones areopting to help other families avoid such grief through organ andtissue donation, officials said.

Medical officials say the number of organ donations hasincreased significantly during recent years, giving families inmourning something to help ease the pain of death.

“It can give you a good feeling, that out of tragedy somethinggood can happen,” said Jane Jones, King’s Daughters Medical Centerrepresentative for the Mississippi Donor Network.

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As more people get educated about organ and tissue donation, itbecomes more popular, she added.

“As public education grows, people are more accepting than inthe past, and that’s what we want, for people to see it’s OK,” saidJones.

The difference has become extremely noticeable to people whohave been involved in the organ donor program for many years.

“Fifteen years ago there were no organ donors, and it’s becausepeople had the misconception that in the organ donor program youcannot have an open casket,” said Lance Smith, manager of theBrookhaven Funeral Home.

He added the funeral home now has at least 50 people a year whoare donors. More families now lean toward organ donation becausethey understand that the process will not change the appearance ofa loved one, Smith said.

Almost every organ can be donated after someone passes away, butthe most common donations are portions of the eyes. Eyes are not aslimited in recovery time as other organs, like the heart andliver.

The eyes, which are not transplanted entirely, can be taken upto 24 hours after death if the proper procedures are followed bymedical personnel.

Cornea, the portion of the eye covering the iris and pupil, andSclera, the white portion of the eye, are both valuable assets inthe medical field.

“I’ve heard stories of people who have never been able to see,then they have a cornea transplant and it improves their vision,”said Smith.

The Sclera can bring shape back to a damage eye. Eyes can beused for all age groups and donations are desperately needed,especially for children.

“A lot of children have lost an eye because of fireworksaccidents,” said Jones. “An eye could go to them and help out.”

Donor recipients say the act of someone donating organs ortissue is humbling and life changing. Many wish the donors anddonor families knew how much of a difference just one donation canmake.

“I don’t think the ones who donate organs know how many peoplethey have touched,” said James Laird, whose son, Jonathan, receiveda life-saving liver transplant at age seven months.

Family members are the ones who make the decision on whether ornot to donate a loved one’s organs. The decision to donate could bemade easier if people knew how much their decision could changeothers’ lives, commented Laird.

“I wish now that family could see him (Jonathan),” said Laird.”I didn’t feel like he’d make it, but to see him run and play nowis unbelievable.”

It is not uncommon for a potential donor’s wish to be vetoed byfamily members. Even though someone may have their driver’s licensesigned, stating they want to become a donor after death, familiescan reverse that decision.

“You need to put it on your driver’s license, but mostimportantly you need to tell your next of kin because even if yourlicense is signed, they can still say no,” said Smith, adding thatpeople should discuss organ donation with their family.

Ideal donors are generally in good health without any signs ofdiseases, such as HIV, hepatitis, lymphoma or leukemia.

Elderly people are typically not donors because their organsaren’t as viable. The most eligible donors are usually young peoplewho die unexpectedly, which is why it can be so hard for familiesto make the decision, according to Jones, who consults familiesabout organ donation.

Organs, though, are just one of the many ways a deceased personcan help save another person’s life or make the quality of lifebetter for another person.

“You can donate tissue, too, and they can use it on people likeburn victims,” Smith pointed out, adding bones and bone marrow tothe list of potential donations.

All types of donors are desperately needed because all types ofrecipients are on waiting lists for donations.

“There are over 70,000 people waiting for some type oftransplant, and around 1,000 of those are in Mississippi,” saidLaird, who represents transplant patients on the Transplant PatientAffairs Committee in the Southeast regions of the United Network ofOrgan Sharing.

Without a transplant, many people know they will die in just amatter of time, like football great Walter Payton who died lastyear. Well-known people, such as basketball legend, Michael Jordan,are trying to promote organ donation, so more deaths can beprevented.

Last year, Willie Morris, a well-known Mississippi author,passed away. He donated his eyes, and those eyes were latertransplanted to a person who was not able to read.

Donations like those are beginning to become more common. Afederal law that went into effect in August 1999 has made asignificant difference in organ donations around the country.

“It is now federal law that we are required to ask every familywho loses someone about organ donation,” said Jones. “Since thatlaw went into effect, our donations have gone up.”

Medical officials hope that as public awareness grows, thenumber of potential donors also grows, so more lives can beextended, saved and made better.