Make an Informed Decision about Organ Donation with the Help of Franciscan Alliance and Gift of Hope

By: Caitlin Vanlaningham Last Updated: September 4, 2015

Franciscan-Donate-Life-1Are you a registered donor? If so, then great, and read on!

If not, then also read on. Being an organ donor is a selfless act and an excellent decision. But let me emphasize that it is a decision. It’s your decision. If you choose to become one or not, you should at least take the time to educate yourself on what being a donor entails so that you can make an informed decision.

So let’s start with how to become a donor. You can do it when you renew your driver’s license. You’ll see the distinction on your license: the word “DONOR” with a little red heart next to it. Or you can register through the Indiana Organ/Tissue Donor Registry, managed by the Indiana Donation Alliance Foundation. It’s free to do and it’s legally binding, meaning that by law, your wish to donate organs must be honored under the proper circumstances.

If someone passes away for one reason or another, their organs can only be procured if they are declared legally dead and on a ventilator. The organs need to still be “living” upon procurement. The brain can be dead but the heart must still beat. Often the donor will go into the operating room still connected to the ventilator.

Interesting fact: kidneys are the only organ that can live outside the body for 24 hours.

“And it’s not just organs that can be given,” Linda Kraiko, Director of Patient Services at Franciscan St. Margaret Health said. “Blood, ACLs, cornea, bones (considered a tissue), and tissue can be donated. One person can enhance up to 25 lives.”

Before anything on a donor’s body is touched, the hospital, let’s say Franciscan St. Margaret Health, must find out if this person is a donor.

“We call the Gift of Hope and report the death to them. They would look up the person’s name and find out if he or she was a donor or not. If not then the family is called and asked if things can be donated.”

“We have requestors in house. We at the hospital can request tissue donation but not organs. One of the trained and certified requesters calls the family and records consent over the phone,” Kraiko said. “Then permission is given then our physicians make arrangements to get needed tissue, bone, and/or blood.”

If an organ is to be donated a team of transplant surgeons come in from a different organization, Rush University Medical Center for instance, to procure the organs. They work with the hospital’s OR team to prepare the donation, then they take the organ back to the hospital where the recipient is prepped and waiting.

“It’s very fast, a matter of hours,” Susan Cochran Communications and Marketing Coordinator for the Gift of Hope Foundation said. “It takes team work. Transplant centers working with organ procurement organizations working with hospitals…”

If the transplant is successful, the recipient must take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives.

Organ donation is not regulated by state, instead by regions that are covered by Organ Procurement Organizations, or OPOs. There are 58 OPOs in the United States and the Gift of Hope Foundation is one of the largest organizations in the US.

There are myths associated with organ donation, common misconceptions that keep people from becoming donors. It’s truth time.

Myth: if I’m a donor a hospital won’t work hard to save me.
Truth: Doctors and the rest of the hospital staff don’t know that you are a donor until they look at your driver’s license or your family is contacted. It’s their job to save your life.

Myth: It’s against my religion.
Truth: Many major religions - Muslim, Christianity, Buddhist, Sikh, Catholicism, etc. - support organ donation or leave it to the individual to decide. The last three Popes were in support of organ donation, in fact.

Myth: No open casket.
Truth: People can donate organs and tissue and still have an open casket at their funeral. The Gift of Hope as well as other OPOs work closely with funeral homes to make sure that this can happen for families.

Myth: I’m too sick to donate.
Truth: donations can come from completely healthy individuals as well as those who have Hepatitis C, those who smoked or drank heavily, passed from a drug overdose, and those who have been cancer free for at least five consecutive years. Procurement is not done on those who are HIV positive, on those who have cancer, or have had cancer in the last five years.

“Donations transcend all of our differences – African American can donate to Hispanic, Catholics can donate to Buddhists, organs don’t know what your religion or what you look like,” Cochran said. “It’s a really special thing to be involved with families on the worst day of their lives to save the lives of someone they don’t even know. It’s an intense situation and we encourage people to discuss organization right now before that situation happens.”

So food for thought. It’s your choice as to whether you want to become a donor or not, just know that your choice could change multiple lives down the road.

For more information on becoming a donor visit http://www.giftofhope.org/.