As a transplant surgeon for both kids and adults, I spend my days and nights waiting for the call that a precious, life-saving organ is available for one of our desperate patients — a call that doesn’t come nearly often enough. But I have faith that one day signing up as an organ donor will be as normal and routine as wearing a seat belt, a bike helmet or putting on sunscreen.
Every day 17 people across the country die waiting for an organ. There are 123,253 souls currently on the wait list who hope, pray, beg or bargain for someone to be their hero. At the same time, an untold number of people took their organs with them when they died instead of leaving them to live on in someone else.
It’s not only a loss for the patients waiting for organs, but a missed opportunity for family and friends of organ donors to experience the comfort and pride that comes from knowing their loved one saved a life or many lives – leaving this world as a hero.
I see how much peace and solace a lost loved one’s gift of life can bring to these families. Families of organ donors often become some of the biggest messengers of the need for life-saving donation.
Every transplant I am involved with reaffirms the benefit to the donor and patient. Still, the number of donors is far below what we need to help the people we can. The number of deceased donors nationally has remained flat for the last several years while the number of patients who could benefit from transplant has only continued to expand. In Michigan the number of deceased donors in 2014 decreased. It is also distressing to note that the number of living donors has actually declined over the last several years. It hopefully is an anomaly.
It’s noteworthy that transplantation is really one of the most effective treatment options there are, but it’s limited entirely by available donors. If we need more CT scanners to help patients, we buy more CT scanners. We can’t do the same for organs.
So we depend on sheer generosity of individuals who take the time to plan where their organs go by registering as a donor and/or by making sure their families know their wishes. Formally registering is the most effective way to make sure you can make a difference and save lives. Registration also clearly conveys your wishes to your family and others.
Currently about 123,000 people are waiting for an organ. Last year there were about 23,700 deceased donor transplants and 5,800 transplants from living donors, not nearly enough to meet the need.
One answer is public awareness and education. This is the goal of our Wolverines for Life effort, which brings together the strength and pride of the university and our partners, the American Red Cross, Gift of Life Michigan, Eversight and Be the Match.
We’ve already seen tremendous success due in part to the efforts of Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and her team, who changed the way the Secretary of State’s offices promote Michigan’s Organ Donor Registry. Since that change, more than 1.7 million people have joined Michigan’s Organ Donor Registry, which has grown from 27 percent of all eligible adults registered to more than 50 percent.
We strive to make being an organ donor more commonplace – and encourage planning for the inevitable and the unexpected.
I believe that as younger generations come of age there won’t be a second thought about making sure organs are put to good use in death and that wishes are made clear. I believe being an organ donor will be a given.
It’s conceivable we could double the number of transplants through increasing donation rates and optimizing transplanted organs. The Alliance, a national organization in which I serve as vice chair, has set a goal of performing an additional 5,000 more organ transplants annually over today’s numbers within 5 years.
As much as I see suffering and loss as a result of a shortage of organs, I have hope that fundamental human goodness will overcome, that people naturally, instinctually will tap into the need to help other people.
Take the next step:
- Find out about life-saving donation at wolverinesforlife.org
- Learn about the U-M Transplant Center.
- Join us at our events.
For more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including a #1 ranking in Michigan and national rankings in many specialty areas by U.S. News & World Report.
John Magee, M.D. is a professor of surgery and director of the University of Michigan Transplant Center. He is a transplant surgeon and treats both children and adults requiring kidney, pancreas and liver transplantation.