April is National Donate Life Month, meant to draw attention to the 125,000 Americans whose lives depend on getting an organ transplant from a donor. A Plus is proud to advocate for these people with a series about organ donation that illuminates the growing need.
The name of another person who needs a new organ to survive is added to the list every 10 minutes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Sadly, 21 people die every day waiting in vain for the life-saving call that never comes.
Part of the reason so many people die before receiving an organ is because only about 40 percent of eligible American donors are actually registered to do so, despite the fact that 95 percent of them morally support it. There are some pervasive myths that scare people away from registering to donate their organs, causing countless lives to be lost for no reason.
For the first part of our "Donate Life Month" series, we are debunking the top five common myths about organ donation in hopes of encouraging people to overcome these misplaced fears once and for all.
Myth 1: Doctors, nurses, and paramedics don't work as hard to save organ donors.
Because there's such a high demand for donor organs, it might seem like this one would be true, but it's definitely not. Emergency care professionals work tirelessly every day to save lives and they have no knowledge of their patient's donor status. The topic of organ donation doesn't come up until every option to save a life has been exhausted and the person has been declared brain-dead.
It's also incredibly impractical to think they'd let one person die just so their organs can be given to others. Transplants have such a high risk of rejection, that it's much easier and has a higher chance of success to heal the injured person and allow them to keep their organs anyway.
Myth 2: Many people cannot donate organs for religious reasons.
There are certain fundamentalist sects that prohibit giving or receiving organs, but it is permitted by most major religions. Catholicism, most branches of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism are all OK with organ donation.
Many religious leaders, including Pope Francis, speak of organ donation as an act of love, encouraging their parishioners to give their organs and help others.
Anyone who is uncertain of where their religion stands on organ donation is encouraged to speak to their religious leaders before they rule out the chance to donate.
Myth 3: Donors aren't always dead before their organs are taken.
Because of stories where someone has "come back" after wrongfully being declared dead, some fear that they will still be alive and conscious when organs are taken. That absolutely does not happen because declaring a person brain-dead (when the brain has irreversibly lost all activity and ability to control the body) is an extensive process.
Several tests are run to ensure that the lack of brain activity isn't caused by something like drugs, nutrient deficiencies, low body temperature, or low blood pressure. There must not be any indication of brain activity including pupil dilation, gag reflex, or facial response to pain stimulus. This takes several hours and involves many professionals.
Rest assured, a donor is truly gone before any organs are removed.
Myth 4: Writing in your will that you want to be an organ donor is good enough.
Time is one of the most important factors when dealing with transplanting organs. Wills are not read until weeks after death when it is far too late to donate organs or tissues.
Sometimes family members who do not support the choice of donating organs will strongly object when the time comes, even if the person in question had informed their family of their plans. If there is a chance this will happen, it is important to file advanced directives with the local hospital to ensure that those final wishes will be honored.
Anyone who wishes to donate their organs should let their family and friends know about their decision in no uncertain terms and have the relevant paperwork in an easily-accessible location. It is also important to check the organ donation box on a driver's license and specify if there are any restrictions in which organs are to be donated at the time of death.
Myth 5: Most organs aren't worth donating.
Many people think that because they drink or are too old that they aren't going to be able to donate their organs. By selling themselves short, more lives are put at risk. There is no upper age limit to being an organ donor and while lifestyle factors can exclude certain organs from being transplanted, it's not always as straightforward as some people think.
Even if a person's lungs or liver can't be used because they are in sub-par condition, there may be other organs and tissues that are in good shape and are still needed to save lives. A donor's organs won't be used if they won't do any good; it's best to let the doctors decide when the time comes.