Many people have heard that organ donation can change lives, and we’ve likely all heard an inspiring organ donation story. Statistics tell us that one person can donate eight life-saving organs, as well as tissue and corneas that can drastically improve the lives of another 75 people.
But do you understand how significant of an impact each gift can truly make?
A donated heart helps people struggling with life-threatening heart failure, including congenital defects and valve dysfunctions. Heart recipients have a five-year survival rate of 70 percent or more, and can enjoy a considerable improvement to their quality of life.
For example, one-year-old Maggie McLaren received a life-saving heart transplant after her one working heart ventricle left her so weak she could not even crawl. Maggie’s donated heart gave her a new chance at life and allows her to run and swim. Her parents are grateful for the gift she was given and are determined to help her understand its impact.
A donated kidney can make all the difference in the life of someone with kidney failure. Instead of spending several hours in dialysis three or four times a week, a kidney recipient can enjoy a healthier, happier life with a working kidney that lasts an average of 12 years. Melissa Tuff “hit the ground running” after her kidney transplant, which put an end to nine years of in-center dialysis. Melissa was diagnosed at age 16 with Rapidly Progressive Glomerulonephritis, and it wasn’t until she received her new kidney that she realized how sick she was, and how much of a difference a healthy kidney made!
A donated liver can save the life of someone with liver failure, which can happen suddenly or over time due to long-term illness or disease. Over 70 percent of transplanted livers last over five years, and half are still functioning after 20 years. Katie Arnson, for example, received her a liver at four months old after being diagnosed with Biliary atresia as an infant, and is now in her 20s. The liver she received brought her back from the brink of death and has allowed her to be a healthy college student who thinks about her donor’s gift every day.
A donated lung (or lungs) can be a life-saving gift to someone with unhealthy or damaged lungs. Damage can be caused by a range of diseases, including cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); a single or double-lung transplant may become someone’s only hope for survival. Ben Hayes was dying of a rare lung disease at just 28 years old when he received his lung transplant. The transplanted lungs replaced his failing ones and allowed him to travel, hunt, spend time with his family -- and volunteer for Gift of Life.
If someone has trouble controlling blood sugar, a transplanted pancreas may be used to restore normal insulin production and drastically improve their quality of life. A pancreas transplant is often done simultaneously with a kidney transplant if the patient is at risk for future kidney damage. A transplanted pancreas can last 10+ years, on average.
One person who benefited from this gift is Andrea S, whose Type 1 diabetes created health problems that forced her to drop out of school and go on disability. After receiving a kidney from her mother and a pancreas from a stranger, Andrea works full time, pursues her love of photography, and encourages others to become organ donors.
Intestinal transplants are used for patients with intestinal failure that cause life-threatening complications. Intestinal failure can be caused by a range of diseases, so both children and adults can be effected. Recipients like 10-year-old Matisse Reid are able to enjoy happier and healthier lives after their transplants; prior to her transplant, Matisse had been fed intravenously her entire life because of a rare medical condition. The condition caused her a great deal of pain, and her body would not allow her to digest food. After her transplant, however, Matisse is able to eat and explore her love of cooking!
The most common and successful transplant, cornea transplants can restore vision after other approaches have failed to relieve painful swelling or to correct vision. Gina G, for example, needed a cornea transplant after she developed an ulcerated cornea, which is an open sore causing intense pain. Receiving a donated cornea restored her vision and allowed her to continue her dream of playing basketball.
Tissue donation (including tendons, skin, and bones) restores hope and mobility for tens of thousands of men and women each year. Tissue can be used to repair combat wounds for veterans, save patients with life-threatening burns, and rebuild joints.
Tissue and organ donors are treated with the utmost care and respect, so families can still have open casket funerals if they wish. Their gifts are gratefully accepted by recipients like Nicole Carlton, who was at risk for paralysis after slipping a disc in her neck. A tissue donation stopped her pain and prevented her from becoming paralyzed from the waist down.
Becoming an Organ and Tissue Donor
Organ and tissue donation is a gift of life that can help people like Maggie, Ben, and Gina live healthy, happy lives; unfortunately, a shortage of donors results in an average of 22 people in the United States dying each day while waiting for a transplant. There are many misconceptions about becoming an organ donor that prevent people from signing up, which we try to dispel through our common questions page. Registering to be an organ donor is a safe and thoughtful decision that can be done despite medical conditions or age (the oldest cornea donor was over 100!)
You can register online in just a minute. If you would like to sign up to give the gift of life, sign up for the Michigan Organ Donor registry here!