April is Donate Life Month and there are currently more than 114,00 people in the United States who need an organ transplant. In order to understand what goes into giving the gift of life, who’s eligible, and what’s involved, we spoke with AdventHealth’s Surgical Director of Liver Transplant, Thomas Chin, MD.
Who’s Eligible to Be an Organ Donor?
“Pretty much anyone is eligible to donate,” explains Dr. Chin. “There are no specific health requirements. However, living donors must be age 18 or older. There’s no age requirement/limit for deceased donors.”
“There’s no absolute age cutoff, but as we age our organ function declines. Some organs decline faster than others. Older people typically can donate as many organs as younger people. Active infection and cancer are typically the only absolute reasons for not being accepted.”
At the time of donation, an organ recovery specialist will evaluate each organ system with blood work, labs and X-rays. Right now, your organ function can be assessed by your doctor using physical exams, labs and X-rays if you want to know for certain if you could become a donor.
Which Organs are Used for Transplantation?
“The liver, kidney, pancreas, heart, lung and intestine can all be donated,” explains Dr. Chin. “So, up to eight organs may be donated from a single organ donor. In addition, tissues such as heart valves and blood vessels may also be used. Living donation is possible for the kidney and liver.”
Adults can even be donors to children for both the kidney and liver. However, there are often size considerations to be taken into account. For example, in the case of a liver, it may be split so the smaller part goes to the child and the larger part can be transplanted into an adult which then saves two lives.
“Living donation is the greatest, most selfless gift you can give to someone. Currently, for a kidney, the wait is typically 5 years and liver allocation is based on how sick you are. When someone needs a liver urgently, the transplant may happen within a week. But if we had more generous, living donors, we could cut this wait time down for everyone.”
Reservations, Fears and Myths
“There are many myths surrounding organ donation,” says Dr. Chin. “They’re all complete rubbish. As doctors, we work to heal everyone and are ethically bound to provide care without discrimination or preference for life based on any mitigating factors like age. We would never prioritize one person’s care over another’s based on their status, money, age or anything else. The idea of letting one person die in order to harvest their organs is as absurd as it’s insulting to our profession.”
“There’s a national list and infrastructure based on urgency which all hospitals and care providers must adhere to. Money or being famous is not part of the allocation system and is never taken into consideration.”
“Also, your health insurance is not affected by signing up for organ donation. And organ donors can have an open casket funeral. It requires a large incision on the chest and abdomen to remove all the organs for transplant and will be in no way visible during your funeral.”
Become an Organ Donor Today
Organ transplants save 30,000 lives a year in the United States alone. With this in mind, we encourage you to become an organ donor today in order to generously give the gift of life. Additionally, you can contact our transplant center or sign up to be an organ donor when you get your driver's license.