Doctors’ orders: From grief to hope: The gift of organ donation

March 31, 2019

Greg Harvey loves to do magic tricks for kids at his church.

He taught himself woodworking and makes beautiful beds, armoires and tables. He enjoys reading, watching movies and sports.

In 1998, Greg wasn’t feeling well. His liver was failing. Greg’s life was saved through liver donation. After struggling with anti-rejection medication that damaged his kidneys, Greg’s wife, Linda, was able to donate one of her kidneys to Greg.

Linda became an advocate for organ donation. She said, “For 20 years, my boys have had their dad because people were willing to be donors and give to others. With giving a kidney to my husband I saw how donation had saved my husband twice.”

In 2018, over 114,000 people were on the waiting list for an organ in the United States. Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the list. Thanks to donors, over 34,000 transplants were performed in 2017. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers, sisters, best friends and children were saved. This number was achieved with about 16,500 donors. One person can donate up to eight life-saving organs after their death. Organs that can be donated include heart, kidneys, lungs, pancreas, liver, intestines, corneas, skin, tendons, bone, nerve and heart valves.

Linda said, “Organ donation changes everything. It doesn’t just affect the person that gets the organ. It affects the spouse, it affects the children. Those people can go back to work, they can support their families, they can help the community and contribute to society, and make differences in their neighborhood. It affects everyone that knows that recipient.”

While tens of thousands of lives were saved last year, only 30.5% of individuals on the waiting list received organs. This is because organ demand greatly exceeds organ supply in our country. About 20 people die each day waiting for an organ that never comes.

“Everyone should be an organ donor to make a difference. A couple was in an accident. Both ended up passing away,” Linda said. “One was not able to donate but the other was. As one of the mothers was talking about her child to a group — how through donation her child was able to help others through organ and tissue donation and the good that came through the tragedy — the other mother said all she gets to talk about is her grief. Donation gives hope. It leaves a legacy for the good this person has done.”

There are several myths surrounding organ donation. Some of the most common perceived obstacles are cost and that patients who are registered donors will not receive quality medical care due to their donation status. Neither of these are true. There is no cost to the individual or family to be an organ donor. There is no difference in medical care between those who have registered as donors and those who have not.

About 95% of adults in the U.S. support organ donation, but only 54 percent are registered as donors. For Linda, the decision to be a registered donor was easy.

“What if your child or spouse needed a heart or lung transplant? What would you want to have happen? What if you needed it? Or maybe you didn’t get your miracle, but wouldn’t you want to help someone else get theirs? It’s truly a personal decision, but if you make the decision that you want to be a donor, please discuss it with your family so they know,” she said.

Here are a few things you can do to help:

1. Become an organ donor: In less than a minute, you can officially register to be an organ donor. Go here to register: https://register.yesutah.org/register.

2. Share your decision with your family: When you make the decision yourself and share with your family beforehand, your wishes are known. It takes stress off of your family during their time of grief.

3. Spread the word on social media: April is National Donate Life Month. You can help by posting why you decided to become an organ donor and encouraging people to sign up using the above registration link.

“There is a ripple effect,” Linda said. “When one person says ‘yes’ (to donation) we don’t know how many others will sign up, will end up donating, will change their minds about donations, will be saved because of organs being donated. Lives are changed when people register to be donors.”