To Be or Not To Be (an organ donor)?

If you don’t have a uniform donor card or you don’t know where it is and you haven’t designated organ donation on your drivers license, here’s the link to register.

You don’t need to take your organs to heaven.  I have it on really good insider information that you are not going to need them there.  So please stop reading right now and do the donor thing.  Thanks!

Now there is another kind of organ donation that can be provided without having to wait until death.

On February 18, 2012, there was a very compelling article in The New York Times

At the top of the page is a collage of 60 photographs of individuals.  They are kidney donors and kidney recipients.

As it turns out, a little fluke of our human evolution is that we really don’t need both of our kidneys.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is, even though we all have two, one is not a back up for the other.  If one goes bad, they both go bad and the choice then is long days attached to a dialysis machine to clean out your blood (which is what kidneys do) or death.  Or, that third amazing miraculous possibility:  a transplant.

Most transplants are in fact from deceased donors, the kidneys and other organs “harvested” while the heart is still beating, but the person has been declared dead.  I know this is scary sounding stuff, but there are rigorous medical, legal and ethical regulations assuring that no is put at risk or compromised or taken advantage of.  It is of course a very emotional time for family members, which is why I strongly encourage you to take care of your donor wishes long before anyone has to grant them when you die.  There are many very moving stories about tragic deaths followed by inspiring lives saved by transplants.

The NYT article though is about live donors.  It is typical for live donors to be family members or friends of the recipient.  Both operations take about 3 hours and recovery is a couple of weeks.  But often there is no one in the family who is an exact match.  If this is the case, then the would-be recipient becomes one of 90,000 people who wait on a donor list for a kidney from a deceased donor.  Fewer than 17,000 people receive a kidney every year from the list and about 4,500 die waiting.

If there is no match among family and friends, there is one other option to just waiting on the donor list.  There is a way of making all those mismatches actually work and save lives.  According to the NYT article what it takes is one anonymous donor to start a chain of matching from the jumble of mismatches.  One person who has no connection to anyone who needs a kidney, just gives one up.  In the chain depicted in The Times, it was one guy, Rick Ruzzamenti, in Riverside, California.  He donated his kidney to anyone who would need it, a total stranger who was a match.  Someone in that total stranger’s family donated their kidney to another total stranger who was a match.  Someone in that recipient’s family donated their kidney to another total stranger…and on and on it went…..30 kidneys, 30 lives saved.  Miraculous.

Live donation is not dangerous, but no day at the beach either.  You have to really want to do it…you have to be able to take time off from work. You need someone to take care of you when you leave the hospital.  And of course because organs can in no way be “sold,” there is no compensation, except free medical care for the procedure.  I’m not sure this is even a matter of being brave; maybe as was written about Rick Ruzzamenti, it takes being a little crazy, although to be a live donor you are required to go through successive psychological testing.  Mr. Ruzzamenti’s wife even threatened to leave him (she didn’t and lovingly curled up with him in his hospital bed as he recovered.)

I must say I read this article over and over and over again.  I went online and read about the procedure and the risks and down loaded the consent forms.  I had lots of accrued sick time although I don’t think I could have used it since kidney donations are elective procedures.  I am not a brave person and I don’t think I could have done it, but I did fantasize a lot about it.  Then two things happened.  I left the hospital where I was working…and all that paperwork sat on my desk.  And then something else happened at that same hospital.  The sister of a dialysis patient was donating a kidney for him.  He had been on the waiting list for two years and she was a match.  She winked at him as they were wheeled apart for their separate but perfectly orchestrated procedures.  And then she died on the table….an unexplainable slip of a scalpel severed her aorta.  She bled to death before she could be saved and before even one of her kidneys could be saved to save her brother.

The statistics for live kidney donation indicate that the procedure is very safe.  Only a chance of 3 in 10,000 people die as a result of the procedure.  But there are the statistical 3 and Yolanda Medina was one of them.  Tragically her brother is still waiting for a kidney….maybe there will be an anonymous donor since he is way down on the donor list and could have to wait for years, if he has that long to live.

Please share this information about live donors.  There may be someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who like Rick Ruzzamenti will say, “Take my kidney, please!”  It might be someone a little crazy, or very egotistical, or spiritual, or who knows what motivation, but it could be someone who can start a chain of miracles.  Not all of us can do it but maybe we can be messengers.

Maybe there will be that anonymous donor….maybe not.

But as e.e. cummings wrote, “miracles are to come, with you i leave a remembrance of miracles.”