The Giving Season
In October, I had the opportunity to tour the UPMC Medical Center in Pittsburgh , PA as they showcased their Diabetes Institute. Part of the tour took me to the labs where scientists are working on islet cell transplantation and replication (insulin producing cells). I was in awe. To think that this may be an answer to end the suffering of millions living with diabetes was exciting. Although I know this form of therapy is still fairly new and certainly not perfected, I was filled with hope. However, in the midst of my wonder, my spirits were dampened when the scientist shared, “Islet cells hold much hope, but there isn’t much chance in the short term because of the limited supply.” He continued to discuss how professionals in the clinic are working to increase the supply and practice innovative medicine. As the conversation and presentation continued, I found my mind and spirit fixed on the words, “there isn’t much chance.” Why? What needs to change? How can we help? The scientist went on to explain that each year only about 1500 pancreases are made available as a result of organ donation. Of the 1500 pancreases, it takes 2-4 to provide islets for 1 person. As a result, without error and experimentation, only 375 people would benefit if we continue along this path. That doesn’t even make a dent in the need. So, here’s the deal, if we want to help science advance and reap the benefits, we must all do our part. It is up to you to decide what you are willing to do, but I have 3 options in this article for you to consider – organ donation, blood donation and financial support of children who can’t get insulin and medical care. As we approach the holiday season, take time to consider how thankful you are for modern medicine, treatment and life.
Every day we hear a different story of a life that was saved because of organ donation. It is really fascinating and amazing to think of the science that is happening. The federal government’s organ donation website, www.organdonor.gov, states, “ Transplantation saves lives, but only if you help.” They are right. This is promising science, but it requires action on our part to benefit those in need. Who knows, at some point you might be a recipient of a pancreas, islet cells or kidneys because of an organ donor.
To become an organ donor, you need to do three things. First, you need to say yes to organ and tissue donation on your donor card and/or driver's license. Next, sign up on your state’s donor registry (if there is one). Finally, discuss your decision with your family. The last of the three is key. If you don’t discuss your decision with your family, your wishes may not be known or followed. The family has the final say in what happens to organs if a loved one passes away.
Each day about 70 people receive an organ transplant, but another 16 people on the waiting list die because not enough organs are available.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tour an islet cell laboratory in Pittsburgh. I saw mouse islets, human islets and a transplant done on a mouse with diabetes. WOW! Now, I still get a little queasy thinking of thousands of cells being put into a body, but I am fascinated and encouraged.
If you aren’t an organ donor, please consider it. Today, more than 81,000 people are waiting for a life-saving organ or tissue transplant. Every 90 minutes an American dies while waiting for organs to become available. It doesn’t have to be this way. One organ and tissue donor can help save or enhance the lives of as many as 50 people. This truly is a gift of life.
MYTHS & FACTS ABOUT ORGAN AND TISSUE DONATION
Myth: Doctors will not try to save my life if they know I want to be a donor.
Fact: The medical staff trying to save lives is completely separate from the transplant team. Donation takes place and transplant surgeons are called in only after all efforts to save a life have been exhausted and death is imminent or has been declared.
Myth: People can recover from brain death.
Fact: People can recover from comas, but not brain death. Coma and brain death are not the same. Brain death is final.
Myth: I am too old to donate organs and tissues.
Fact: People of all ages may be organ and tissue donors. Physical condition, not age, is important. Please sign a donor card; physicians will decide whether your organs and tissues can be transplanted.
Myth: My family will be charged for donating my organs.
Fact: Donation costs are not the responsibility of the donor’s family or estate.
Myth: Donation will disfigure my body.
Fact: Organs and tissues are removed in procedures similar to surgery, and all incisions are closed at the conclusion of the surgery. An open casket funeral is possible after donation.