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Our View: Designated donors should be proud

November 14, 2018

Have you seen the Donate Life flag waving outside the Francis Building?

The green, blue and white flag has been raised 14 times this year to honor deceased people giving a final gift to the world in the form of organ, eye, and tissue donations.

Most recently, it flew for Kari Koens, a Mayo Clinic employee who was struck by a car and fatally injured a week ago.

Her family received a similar flag as a memento of her donation.

You can’t put a price on family members’ ability to see their loved ones’ lives shared with others — even as they grieve the loss.

“To be able to turn it around and save lives is amazing to the families,” Cathy Dudley, a liaison for LifeSource, said. “It means everything to them.”

But what does that flag mean to people on the organ donor list?

Dudley said that same flag “raises their hope that they may receive that life-saving gift.”

LifeSource, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, facilitates organ, eye and tissue donations in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Around 65 percent of Minnesotans are designated donors, according to their driver’s licenses.

That means that in the event of their untimely death, medical personnel would know that they intended for any salvageable organs to be donated.

But that doesn’t cover demand from patients.

Dudley, who’s based in Mayo, says there are more than 3,000 people on the wait list for organs in our region.

And that’s only a fraction of the 115,000 people nationwide who are waiting for transplants.

You could fill up the U.S. Bank Stadium twice with the people waiting for a life-saving organ donation, Dudley said.

Oftentimes, those donations are the only hope patients have for recovery.

Charles Rosen, chairman of the Division of Transplantation Surgery at Mayo Clinic, said that for people with heart, lung, or liver diseases, the only life-saving option is a new organ.

“They have no other alternative and will die from their diseases without an available organ,” he said.

Many do, at a rate of about 20 people per day.

There are around 40,000 transplants done every year in the U.S., Rosen said, the majority of which are kidney donations (60 percent or so), followed by liver transplants, heart transplants, and lung transplants.

Not all of those organs come from deceased donors, though.

Kidney transplants often come from living donors, which can mean a better outcome for the patient (versus receiving a kidney from a deceased donor).

However, liver transplants can come from living donors as well. Patient outcomes for those are comparable to the outcomes for liver transplants from deceased donors, Rosen said.

The outcome for liver donors, who have to go through a longer, more dangerous surgery and recovery, are worse, he said.

We also think our state and nation can do better.

A 65 percent donor designation rate isn’t bad. But eventually, we would like to see enough people on the donor list that people don’t have to risk their lives to donate organs to their loved ones.

Register as an organ donor next time you’re at the DMV. Or, if you really want to get a jump on things, you can register online.

Rosen did both.

Knowing he’s a designated donor is a relief, in a way, Rosen said.

“Death is something that eventually comes to all of us, but unfortunately, sometimes, it comes far too soon or suddenly,” he said. “This gives me some satisfaction, knowing that if something were to happen to me, I’d still be in a position to help others.”

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