With all of the advancements made in the medical sciences, doctors are better able to preserve human life. Even with all these advancements, there is still not a successful or widely available method for creating artificial organs. That is why events such as the National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week (NOTDA) are important and April 24-30 will be the 25th anniversary of this week in Canada.
NOTDA originated in Ontario when Stuart Herriott, a two and half-year-old boy, passed away due to a motor vehicle accident and his parent’ donated his organs to save the lives of four other individuals. Speaking about the origins of NOTDA, Jan Clemis, provincial director for the Alberta chapter of the Canadian Transplant Association said, “Bringing that to the forefront made it much more public and I think really helped push forward the agenda of how we can have a light at the end of a tragedy. Out of grief sometimes we can find solace and comfort knowing that even though we’ve lost our loved one, another parents may not have to lose their child.”
Around 250 people of the almost 4,500 people on the waiting list for an organ donation in Canada die while waiting. In Alberta alone, there are about 650 individuals on the waiting list for organ donation.
Despite this, the majority of people who are in favour of organ donations are not registered to be an organ donor after they pass away.
“One of the saddest things is 90 per cent are in favour of organ donations and yet only about 32 per cent are organ donators,” said Clemis. “We have a lot of missed opportunities within our system.”
Out of all of the eligible donors, only 1.2 per cent end up donating organs. This is a result of only 46.5 per cent of all organ donors having in-hospital deaths. If an organ donor dies outside of the hospital, it is very unlikely their organs could be used due to necrosis which is the death of organs and tissues due to lack of blood flow — necrosis can not be reversed. Of all the in-hospital deaths, only 14.6 per cent are under the age of 70. Of those, only 3.1 per cent of all organ donors die due to not having any brain activity which is the point where someone is truly dead and no medical intervention could bring them back. From there, only 1.9 per cent are maintained on life-support and finally, after all of that, 1.2 per cent of all organ donors have their organs pre- served helpfully.
“People shouldn’t count themselves out just because they might be elderly or they might say ‘Oh, nobody wants my organs.’ In Canada, the oldest organ donor was 92 years old and the oldest tissue donor was 104 years old,” Clemis said. “There are lots of good things that can enrich, enhance, improve, and save life within each of us.”
Even if you are registered as an organ donator, it is important that you discuss your wishes with your loved ones due to them being the ones to have the final say about your body after death, and the default state is that nothing happens, resulting in your organs not being donated even if you were a perfect candidate to donate your organs. Two other goals of the NOTDA week is to dispel the misconceptions about being an organ donator and bring the conversation of becoming an organ donator or closer to home.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about (being an organ donator),” said Clemis. “‘You wouldn’t be able to have a casket funeral as an organ donator,’ all of that is entirely possible. ‘Physicians wouldn’t do their best to save someone’s life,’ we always know that’s the first and foremost job of a physician is the safe their life.”
Clemis finally expressed how grateful she was to receive a new kidney and how she wanted to see everyone on the organ dona- tion waiting list receive the same gift of life that she had.
“As a kidney recipient, I just want other people to have the same regenerating/bounce back into a normal life and I want everybody to have the gift that I had,” Clemis said. “When we call organ donation the gift of life, it is. It’s a brand new opportunity for us as recipients to have that new life and it’s impactful and I would love for everybody on the transplant waiting list to have what I have.”
Ian Croft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Taber Times