I want you to think of a number. The number I want you to think of is the number of people you know who are alive today because an organ transplant was available when they needed one. For me, that number is five, and I am entirely grateful that each of these five people, whether friend, colleague, or acquaintance, is still here with us, enjoying their family and contributing to the work of making the world a better place.
These five people were the fortunate ones. According to the American Transplant Association, about 20 people die every day in the United States because a transplantable organ they needed was not available. It doesn’t have to be this way. Surveys show that 95% of Americans favor organ donation but only 58% have made their intention known to family or friends.
There are many diseases and conditions that may require an organ transplant to sustain life or cure disease. Kidneys are the most frequently transplanted single organ, followed by liver, heart, lung, pancreas, and intestine. If you, like me, know a living person who has donated one of their two kidneys, then you have a model in your life of selfless generosity. It is inspiring to know someone with this kind of love for a family member, friend, or even a stranger.
One of my first jobs out of college was working for the Blood Bank of the Redwoods as a donor recruiter. I set up blood drives at businesses, schools, and fire houses throughout Sonoma and Mendocino Counties and generally worked to make the public more aware of the need to donate blood to ensure that an adequate blood supply was available at all times. One thing I learned quickly was that there were two kinds of people: those who were willing to donate blood and those who were not. There was no amount of persuading those who were not fundamentally willing to give blood to do so—they had their reasons. Organ donation is similar, in that there will always be a percentage of the population closed to the concept. That makes it more important for those who are willing to make their intentions known to their family and friends.
Have you done what you can to be sure that your family knows your desire to be an organ donor? Is the “donor” sticker on your driver’s license? Have you registered online (donatelifecalifornia.org)? Online registration is easy and only takes a few minutes.
During my days as a blood donor recruiter, the easiest pint of blood I ever recruited was my own. Since I have donated a couple of gallons of blood over the course of my life, the concept of organ donation just feels like a natural extension. If I can help someone, I want to help.
The stranger you help is only a stranger to you. To someone else, that person is a father, mother, sister, brother, or friend.
I want you to think of another number, and that is the number of minutes it took you to read this column. In that number of minutes, you can have a conversation with a family member in which you tell them that, if something happened to you, you would want your organs to be donated to a person in need. We can save lives, and the life we save is precious to someone, and someone else may provide a needed organ to someone precious to us.
The Cancer Resource Centers’ 2019 Cancer Awareness and Prevention series is sponsored by CRC in collaboration with the Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency. This information is presented for educational purposes and is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your health care provider. The Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County is a grassroots organization serving our communities since 1995 by providing information, advocacy, and support services free of charge.