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Nearly 100,000 men, women and children in the U.S. are on the national organ transplant waiting list awaiting a life saving transplant. About 100 new names are added to the list daily. On an average day, 77 people receive organ transplants in the U.S. But thousands more never get the call from their transplant center saying a suitable donor organ - and a second chance at life - has been found.
"Organ donation is a generous and worthwhile decision that can be a lifesaving gift to multiple people," explained Thomas Gonwa, M.D., chair of the department of transplantation at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. "Thanks to the availability of these organs, along with regular blood donations that replenish the blood supply so critical to the transplant process, many people will live that might not otherwise have hope."
Contrary to popular belief, signing a donor card or a box on your dirver's license doesn't guarantee that your organs will be donated. The best way to ensure that your wishes are carried out is to inform your family of your desire to donate. Doing this in writing ensures that your wishes will be considered. Hospitals seek consent of next of kin before removing organs. If your family members know you wanted to be a donor, it makes it easier fo them to give their consent.
If you have no next of kin or doubt your family will agree to donate your organs, you can assign durable power of attorney to someone who you know will abide by your wishes.
Very few medical conditions automatically disqualify you from donating your organs. There's also no cutoff age for organ donation. The decision whether or not to use your organs is based on strict medical criteria, not age. So don't disqualify yourself prematurely if you're an older person considering becoming an organ donor.
Many transplant centers will allow you to be a 'living donor' and donate one of your kidneys to a family member, friend or another person of your choice. You can also donate blood or bone marrow during your lifetime. Donating blood is simple, something you can do on a regular basis (normally every eight weeks) and is an essential component to the organ donation process. Without an adequate supply of all blood types, transplantation cannot occur.
Paul Scotti works in the Public Affairs Office at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida