Students learn facts about 'gift of life' 2010.01.13

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

The ninth grade students that Kelly Valentine faced last week at Fayette High School will soon have an important decision to make.organ.donor.jpg

When they complete their driver education course and walk into the Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain a license, they’ll be asked this question: Would you like to become an organ donor?

Valentine wasn’t in the classroom to pressure students to answer that question with a “yes.” Her job is to make sure they know enough about the issue to make an informed choice.

“I want people to have all their questions answered when it’s time to make a decision,” she said.

Valentine works for Life Connection of Ohio, the agency coordinating organ donations, and she speaks to students throughout Northwest Ohio.

It’s not a pleasant thought, she told the freshmen—dying, then donating—but the act can be extremely important to a person in need of a heart or a kidney. Some kids understand the concept long before her talk concludes.

“What comes out of donating an organ?” she asks.

“Life,” a student responds.

The need for organs is great, Valentine said. She asked students to picture in their minds Ohio State University’s football stadium with 105,000 people seated.

“That’s about the number of people in the United States today who need transplants.”

When Valentine joined Life Connection three years ago, the number was closer to 95,000. More names are added to the list each year than those removed.

One reason is that very few registered donors end up giving the gift.

“It’s actually a pretty small percentage of people who die that are able to be a donor,” Valentine said.

As a donor ages, the likelihood of a donation decreases. In the case of the accidental death of a younger person, organs must be ready for transplant within 12 to 24 hours before they begin to shut down. 

About two percent of those dying are potential donors and only about half end up furnishing an organ.

That’s not the case for tissue donations—cartilage, corneas, ligaments, bones and more—but that’s a different situation. Tissues enhance life, make life better for someone, Valentine explained. Organs save lives.

When students are first asked the about becoming registered donors, they won’t be alone.

“Mom and dad are still going to be part of the decision,” she said, “but at age 18 it’s a different matter.”

When a registered donor dies, the possibility of a donation is discussed with family members, however, the family does not have the right to overrule a donation request unless the victim is under 18 years of age.

In the case of an unregistered person, family members may be asked if they think it’s something the deceased would have wanted. The gift of an organ often provides a source of comfort, Valentine said, particularly when a young person dies in an accidental death.

“If you don’t want to register, don’t, but make your family aware of your feelings,” she said.

If a person signs up to be a donor and later has second thoughts about the decision, the option to drop off the list is always open.

Valentine visited this same group of Fayette students when they were in seventh grade. She’s impressed with the awareness many students show about the subject.

Few recall her face, however, they remember the container of life-like organs she brings along to show.

That’s the fate of a Life Connection educator.

“Nobody remembers me,” Valentine said, “but they remember my organs.”

 

About two-thirds of those waiting for an organ transplant are in need of a kidney, said Kelly Valentine of Life Connections of Ohio.

Many kidney transplants come from living donors—often a family member who is willing to give one of his or her two kidneys.

Liver donations can also come from a living person because the liver will regenerate, as will the portion given to someone in need of a transplant.

What’s the number one reason for a lung transplant?

People tend to think it’s related to smoking, Valentine said, but cystic fibrosis is the leading cause.

“Don’t be too quick to judge,” she said.

Similarly, it’s not always alcohol that’s at the root of an ailing liver.

“People do bad things to their bodies,” she said, “but someone needing a lung who continues to smoke won’t be on the waiting list. We have a lot of respect for that organ and we want to make sure it gets taken care of by its new owner.”

Debunking myths

Many popular medical TV shows raise awareness about transplants. Unfortunately, said Kelly Valentine, they often misrepresent the facts.

“It’s often implied that it’s a doctor’s or nurse’s responsibility to worry about who is going to get an organ,” she said, but that’s not the case.

She reviewed several other common myths associated with organ donations. All five of the statements are false, Valentine said:

• EMTs and physicians may allow a patient to die in order to procure their organs.

• Organ donation disfigures the body and delays the funeral.

• Wealthy people can buy organs.

• Donating organs and tissues goes against religious beliefs.

• It costs money to donate. 

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