ORGAN DONATION THE GIFT OF LIFE
More than 8,000 people in the UK need an organ transplant to save or dramatically improve their lives. Medical advances mean that increasing numbers of people can benefit from a transplant, while at the same time, improved road safety and medical developments are actually decreasing the number of donors available for transplants.
Every year around 400 people die while waiting for a suitable organ to be donated and many more lose their lives before they even get on the transplant list. The death and cremation or burial of a loved one is a tragedy, but it is a double tragedy if the person who died could have donated their organs to save the lives of others. Every day this chance to save lives is lost simply because people have never got round to telling their relatives of their wishes and joining the NHS Organ Donor Register.
The NHS Organ Donor Register (ODR), set up in October 1994, is literally a life-saver. A confidential, computerised database, it carries the names and wishes of more than 13 million people who said they want to leave a legacy of life by donating their organs to help others after their death. NHS UK Transplant, which manages organ donation and transplantation services in the UK, marked the 10th anniversary of the ODR by setting a challenge to encourage a further million people to add their names to the register during the year from 6th October 2004 to 5th October 005. The target was achieved three weeks before the deadline and attracted in total more than 1.2 million registrations during the anniversary year.
While most patients on the organ transplant list need a kidney, the heart, liver, lungs, pancreas and small bowel are all needed for life saving transplants. People can donate organs only if they die in hospital, normally in an intensive care unit, where machines can keep the blood circulating after death. Many people can be considered for tissue donation after death as some tissue can be donated up to 48 hours after a person has died. Heart valves are used to help children born with heart defects and adults with diseased or damaged valves. Skin is used as a protective dressing to help save the lives of people with severe burns and reduce scarring, and bone is used to prevent limb amputation in patients suffering from bone cancer or multiple fractures. Virtually everyone can leave the gift of sight. Unlike organs, corneas can be donated up to 24 hours after a person has died and you do not have to die in hospital to become a cornea donor.
Families are always consulted if there is a possibility of organ or tissue. Although current research shows that 40% of relatives decline to donate, family members will virtually always support donation if they know it's what their loved ones wanted. So many bereaved relatives find themselves unable to say 'yes' simply because they have never discussed it and donít know what their loved ones would have wanted.
Many millions of donor cards were issued long before the register was launched, so anyone carrying a card who is not sure whether they are on the register is urged to sign up to the new register.
You can find out more about organ donation, by calling the NHS Organ Donor Line on 0300 123 23 23 or visiting UK Transplant's website at www.uktransplant.org.uk