By Melodie Veldhuizen
When one thinks about a gift, you normally think of a surprise in a colourful gift bag or wrapped in attractive gift wrapping.
But have you ever thought of a gift in terms of a life? A gift of hope?
August is Organ Donation Month in South Africa. This year’s theme is “Proud to be an organ donor”. During this period efforts are made once more to make the public aware of the great need of donor organs and tissue. According to the South African Organ Donor Foundation (ODF) 4 300 adults and children are currently waiting for a gift of life.
Perhaps you’re thinking of becoming a donor but you need more information.
What organs and tissue can be donated? By donating your heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys and lungs you can save seven people’s lives. If you also donate your corneas, heart valves, skin and bones as well as tendons you can help a total of 50 people to have a quality life in many respects.
Who may register as an organ donor? Any person who is in good health and does not have a chronic disease that could be harmful to the recipient may register as an organ donor. You do not have to undergo any medical tests beforehand. Only after your death will medical practitioners evaluate your social and medical history, do blood and tissue tests, and physically examine your corpse to make sure that your organs are sutable for donation.
What is the difference between organ and tissue donation? A donated organ will only be removed from the body of the donor after the person has been declared brain dead but is still coupled to life-support apparatus. The organ must then be transplanted very quickly. An organ such as a kidney, however, can be donated to a family member (or other suitable recipient) while you are still alive. Tissue can be retrieved from the donor’s body a few hours or even a few days after the death of the donor. It is then stored in a tissue bank until it is needed.
Will the identity of the donor and the recipient be made known? The anonymity of both the donor and the recipient is guaranteed for the sake of privacy and for legal reasons.
Are any costs involved? It costs nothing to register as a donor. Neither are there any costs for your next of kin after your death. From the moment your next of kin give permission for the donation, the hospital or tissue bank will be responsible for all medical expenses. Your next of kin will not be paid for the organs donated. Organs and tissue are gifts of life. And for that reason it is illegal to sell organs and tissue.
What are the chances of my organs being removed while I’m still alive? Two doctors who are not part of the transplant team must carry out thorough tests to declare the potential donor brain dead. In South Africa and in other countries the criteria for declaring a patient brain dead are adhered to very strictly and are applied at medical, legal and ethical levels. An organ donor’s death is defined on the basis of the time at which he is declared brain dead and not when the life support machines are switched off.
Will funeral arrangements be delayed? No, because the donor’s body will be returned to the next of kin for burial or cremation immediately after removal of the organs or tissue.
Will the donor’s body be mutilated? Your body will not be mutilated during organ or tissue donation because the removal is carried out by surgeons and trained personnel with great care, respect and dignity.
Religious objections against organ donation? Most religions support organ donation because it saves lives. If you have doubts about this, talk to your minister or pastor.
How do I become an organ donor? Register online at https://www.odf.org.za/ or contact the Organ Donor Foundation on the toll-free number 0800 22 66 11. You will receive an organ donation card to fill in that you should keep in your wallet or identity document, as well a sticker to stick on your identity document or driver’s licence. You can also order an organ donor’s bracelet, pendant or disc from Medic Alert (021) 425 7328/ 0861 112 979 or Elixir Medical Shieds (0861 115 178.
Discuss your decision with your family and ask them to carry out your wish after your death.
Organ Donor Foundation. https://www.odf.org.za/