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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Be a Donor

Since my transplant many people have commented to me that they now might consider becoming an organ donor. When I ask why they have not so designated themselves in the past, the reasons vary widely. Clearly, there are some common misconceptions about organ donation, a few of which I will address here.

1: "I don't want my body mutilated." I find this very interesting given the fact that, in California, if you suddenly die, not under the care of a physician (i.e. any accident), you are required to have an autopsy. Only the coroner can waive that. Prior to medical school, I was a Denier. In French that translates to 'keeper of the morgue'. It was after participating in my first autopsy that I determined I would forever be an organ donor. Transplant surgeons would be somewhat more delicate in harvesting my organs than would the coroner. When the autopsy was over, I put everything in a bag and put it back in the cavity and sewed up the body. I figured that organ donation would be less disruptive.

2: "For religious reasons, everything has to stay together for the resurrection." To that I always ask, "Which matter will be used in your resurrection, your 35 year old matter or your 73 year old matter?" Everything we eat, the air we breath changes the composition of our body every day. Physically, a large portion of the molecules in me today weren't there 20 years ago. They were earth, oceans, clouds and other stuff. The matter doesn't matter. My guess is that God uses the 'blueprint' and rebuilds us with perfect materials. When we die, we decompose back to the earth from which we were created. There is nothing particularly sacred about those elements other than the memory of what they represented. All major religions both support and encourage organ donation.

3. "I don't want the doctor to let me die too soon, just to get my organs." This will never happen. As physicians, are primary responsibility is to save our patients. There is zero incentive for us to have transplant harvesting as any motivation to alter our care for any patient. This misconception can arise from a misunderstanding of 'when we die' and is often exacerbated by how this process is depicted on TV medical dramas. We die when our brain dies, not when our heart stops. The heart does not need the brain to beat. Case in point, there are no nerves connecting my heart to my brain. It began beating spontaneously when my surgeon placed it in my chest and supplied it with oxygenated blood.
When the brain is damaged so severely that is is no longer viable, we die. However, if there is still a blood pressure and oxygen getting to the heart, it will continue beating, for a time.
Of course, this is an extremely emotional time for the family; underlying the importance of having made the choice to be a donor prior to the moment of loss. I have 100% confidence in this process.

The true reason that we should be donors is because of how much good is generated by such an action. It not only saves the individual receiving the organ, but also affects thousands of lives of those who will helped by their continued existence. Like a ripple in a pond, the gift continues to expand. Heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes, liver failure, lung disease and blindness can all be corrected. A friend of mine, a urologist from Connecticut, told me that both his kidneys were healthy and had served him well for 70 years. He felt he could live just fine on just one kidney. He became an anonymous live kidney donor. What fulfillment he must have felt. Being a designated organ donor can provide the same satisfaction, but without the pain.

It is simple to become a donor. Most DMV's allow you to designate your decision on your license. In California you can also sign-up online at the California Transplant Donor Network (CTDN). Once you have made this choice, you should let your family know your wishes to avoid later confusion.

Give Life, Be a Donor.


1 comment:

DWeisshaar said...

Great essay, Kevin. You can also sign-up to be an organ donor at