|13 Organ Donation Questions: Busting Myths, Spreading Facts|
Some leave a legacy. Others leave many.
Signing that organ-donation pledge may mean you help dozens of people. But fear of donation is just as real for some people as fear of death. Here are your vital questions, answered once and for all.
by Stella Fitzgibbons, M.D., FACP
"They can't do a transplant because of an infection she developed while waiting."
"The liver cancer spread before they could do the surgery."
The story is repeated thousands of times a year in U.S. hospitals. Part of the problem? Lethal myths that prevent people from donating desperately needed organs. Here are the factual answers to your questions—even the ones you may be afraid to ask.
Questions About What Happens in the Hospital
Q. If the doctors know I'm an organ donor, will they try as hard to save me?
Despite what you may see on TV, the doctor who takes care of you will not be involved in any part of the transplant process. In fact, your doctors are discouraged from bringing up the subject. Hospitals have found that nurses do a better job of explaining the process, and chaplains can help with ethical and religious issues.
Actually, more testing is done to confirm brain death in an organ donor than in other patients. Intensive-care specialist Robert Levine, M.D., has worked with trauma patients at Houston's University of Texas Health Science Center. He points out that his part of the job is giving families "a sense that everything that needed to be done was done."
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Questions About Your Eligibility
Q. Does it matter how old I am?
Questions About the Funeral
Q. Will donating my organs affect my family's experience of my death? Will it, for example, prolong the time before they get my body back?
There is no extra bill for the family of an organ donor; all transplant expenses are paid by the recipient's insurance and/or public assistance.
Questions About What's Needed and Whom You'll Help
Q. Are particular types of people especially needed for organ donation?
Members of the controversial organization LifeSharers sign a request that their organs first go to people who themselves are registered donors. LifeSharers says they have almost 15,000 members. But one main criticism is that because they allow people to cut in line, patients who need the organ most desperately may not get it.
Estimates suggest that over 6,000 people die each year waiting for a transplant. But that number is probably low. Often, people who could have done well with a transplant if they'd had it earlier develop problems that make them ineligible. They're no longer included in the number who are waiting.
"We're dealing with myths," says transplant surgeon Clive Callender, M.D., founder of the National Minority Organ Tissue and Transplant Education Program. "But to the people who believe them, the myths are real."
Please sign that donor card— but don't stop there. If enough people let family and friends know their wishes and encourage them to sign their own cards, it will do more for those waiting for transplants than any government program.
Last updated and/or approved: October 2011. Original article appeared in September/October 2009 former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.