On Organ Donation

November 29, 2011

As of October 2011, a reported 112,178 patients in the U.S. were awaiting organ donations and every 11 minutes another individual is added to the waiting list. Though an average of 75 people per day receive organ transplants daily and more than 86 million people in the U.S. are registered as donors, a critical shortage of organs remains. Increasing information about the importance of donation could help to encourage new donors and save lives.

Organs and tissues including heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, skin, and corneas can all be donated and transplanted. According to experts, the organs and tissue from a single donor could help as many as 50 recipients. There are no age restrictions for donors, and depending on the type of donation, organs may come from a deceased or living donor. Current data indicates that as of October 7, 2011 there had been 113,693 living donors and 143,662 deceased donors since the tracking of organ donation was initiated.

Any individual is eligible to register as an organ donor, though the process for registering varies by state. If an individual who was not a registered donor dies due to massive trauma to the brain or is declared brain dead and cannot be revived, the individual’s family members must authorize the donation of the individual’s organs. Only organs with blood and oxygen flowing through them at the time of donation are viable for transplant, and each must be transplanted within hours to help prevent rejection by the recipient. When organs become available, they must tissue and blood typed to identify the appropriate individual on the transplant waiting list who is a match, as well as ensuring that they are the appropriate size for the recipient.

The recovery of organs for transplant is performed by a team of surgeons, nurses, and the transplant coordinator in the operating room where the donor received care. Just prior to removal, each organ is flushed free of blood and then placed in a sterile container for transportation to the recipient’s transplant center. Organs must be transplanted quickly – hearts and lungs within four hours, livers within 12-18, and kidneys within 24-48 hours of removal from the donor.

The risks associated with receiving an organ transplant are outweighed by the benefits as individuals receiving transplants are those who would not be able to survive without them. Though all organ recipients must take anti-rejection drugs following transplant, reports indicate that 15 percent still suffer some rejection in the first year. In addition, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that though the risk of disease transmission from donated organs is rather small, between 2007 and 2010 more than 200 cases of suspected transmission were investigated. To increase the safety of organ transplants, the CDC has drafted new guidelines for advanced organ testing which would screen for hepatitis B and C as well as HIV.

In 2010, 28,665 organ transplants were performed, but reports indicate that as many as 6,000 Americans die each year while waiting for a transplant. By encouraging individuals to consider registering as donors, it may be possible to save thousands of lives each year.

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Using Social Media for Organ Transplantation

July 26, 2010

Reports indicate that the number of organ donors in the U.S. has decreased in recent years, while the number of patients in need of an organ transplant continues to grow. In 2006, there were 8,019 cadaveric organ donors and 6,732 living donors. Both figures have since decreased, and in 2008 there were only 7,990 cadaveric donors and 6,218 living donors. According to the National Kidney Foundation, 104,748 individuals in the United States are currently awaiting an organ transplant of some type, and more than 4,000 new patients are added to this figure each month. Organs from donors are matched to waiting recipients by a national computer registry called the National Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). In addition, close relatives and family members often undergo testing including tissue matching and blood typing to determine if they are a viable candidate for donation. Many organs, including kidneys, can be transplanted from either living or recently deceased donors, provided they have good kidney function, and low risk for certain disorders including high blood pressure and diabetes.

Transplants using kidneys from both living and cadaver donors are frequently successful, with about 94.9 percent and 97.96 percent of cadaver and living (respectively) donor kidneys still functioning after one year. In spite of the success rate, the wait to receive a transplant, which can often be several years and often requires dialysis and other physically taxing treatments, is too long for some individuals, and a number have chosen to utilize online social media to seek out possible donors. The Baltimore Sun reports that 80,000 people in the United States are currently awaiting kidney transplants, but just over 16,000 were completed last year. For individuals seeking to increase their chances of finding a donor, Annette Whinery, the coordinator of University Medical Center’s living donor program, says that it is becoming common for patients to seek out living donors on their own, often through church, work, family, and friends. Dr. Ngoc L. Thai, director of Allegheny General Hospital’s Center for Abdominal Transplantation, recently completed a transplant surgery in which the donor and recipient connected via Facebook. “It’s the way of the future,” according to Dr. Thai, who says that he expects more patients to turn to social networking websites for help finding donor matches. In addition to Facebook, some patients and their family members have turned to Craigslist and other websites to find possible donors.

Some individuals awaiting transplant and those who have recently received a transplant choose to use social networking websites to tell their story, rather than to ask others to consider donating an organ. Through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, individuals in need of kidneys and other organs are able to keep others informed. Recent research has shown that people fighting chronic illnesses and those with serious health problems, such as those that might require an organ transplant, are using social media to find information and connect with others with similar ailments. Social networks like the Transplant Trust and Patients Like Me allow patients awaiting transplants, their families, physicians, donors, and others to connect with one another. In a recent study by Teri Browne, PhD, from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, this type of connection was shown to help patients navigate and understand the process of getting a transplant more easily.

According to Dave Bosch, spokesman for the Gift of Hope, an organ and tissue donor network, “Social media has become the way people communicate, very personally, about what’s going on in their life.” Dr. Kenneth Prager, director of clinical ethics and chairman of the Medical Ethics Committee at New York Presbyterian Hospital, notes that Internet appeals for organ donations raise a number of questions of fairness. While Dr. Prager states that “Solicitations undermine the concept of a level playing field,” which is the primary objective of the OPTN, “there is nothing illegal in advertising or using the Web for personal or health reasons. Altruistic organ donors have the legal right to designate recipients.” It is important to note, however, that the sale of kidneys and other organs is illegal, and all donations must be made without compensation.

Though the use social media to address matters related to an individual’s health may seem somewhat unusual, it is a trend that seems to be gaining in popularity. Some experts even argue that the solicitation for kidney and other organ donation on websites like matchingdonors.com, Craigslist, and Facebook may help to encourage individuals to consider donation and benefit the population of individuals in need of organs as a whole.

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