Its altruistic principle aside, there are several aspects to organ donation that you should be aware of. Dev Goswami & Pooja Salvi tell you about the various myths that surround it and how you can pledge your organs to save someone’s life
Organ donation is the sort of topic that leaves us feeling really good about ourselves and the society we live in. A few months ago, the Mumbai police traffic department received praise for ensuring the speedy transportation of a heart between two hospitals. And, once every few months, we read about someone who has saved lives because of their willingness (or their families approval to) donate their organs. The kind of applause and appreciation that those who donate organs or help with the coordination for those organs is great, but it leaves us wondering whether we should be doing something to make it less of a rare occurrence.
The question — why should you donate your organs — seems almost rhetorical. On a personal level, yes, the reason couldn’t be more obvious — to help save someone’s life. But, on a larger scale, it’s about making a difference, and we don’t say that lightly. According to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences’ Organ Retrieval Banking Organisation (ORBO), 1 to1.5 lakh patients need a new kidney in the country, but only up to 4,000 end up getting one. Similarly, from the 1 lakh patients who need corneal transplantation, only 25,000 will be able to undergo the actual transplant.
The Mohan Foundation, a non-profit NGO that has been working in the field of organ donation since 1997, estimated that in 2014, a total of 1,150 organs were donated in India. The numbers, which can be found on their website, include data from 10 states and focus on organs such as the kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas and intestines. But, the most important number that you should be aware of is that one person can potentially save up to eight lives. Yes, you read that right — eight.
THE DONATION PROCESS
When we mention donation, we’re usually talking about pledging your organs after your death. But, you can also be a living donor by donating organs such as your kidneys or parts of your liver and lungs. This works a lot like blood donation — it varies from one case to the other, and more often than not, it will be for a family member or someone you know. Remember that it’s a voluntary process, which means that you can walk out at any stage if you want to — though we recommend that you talk to a doctor about your reservations before making your decision. You should also remember that the surgery to remove the organs carries the same risks of complications as a regular surgery.
Donating your organs after your death, on the other hand, is a different process and it involves filling out a couple of forms. The procedure is pretty simple however — all you need to do is log on to the website of the Zonal Transplant Coordination Centre (ZTCC), Mumbai — www.ztccmumbai.org. Navigate to their Donor Card tab and then download the donor card and the pledge form by clicking on their respective links. Fill up the two — mentioning the organs that you wish to donate — and send the pledge form to the address mentioned on the website. You should then ideally carry this donor card with you at all times. The next (and often the most important) step is to inform your family — it is vital to inform them that you’re a registered donor and also make sure they will honour your wishes.
The prevalence of a number of myths about organ donation is one of the biggest hurdles. Inaccurate information is often the reason why people choose not to pledge their organs, which is why it’s important that we correct a few of the most common misconceptions.
Myth If I agree to donate my organs, the doctors will not work as hard to save my life.
Fact When you go to the hospital for treatment, the doctor’s focus is on saving your life — not somebody else’s. You will be the doctor’s priority and she/ he will work towards saving your life.
Myth Organ donation is against my religion.
Fact Organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most major religions. This includes Hinduism, Roman Catholicism, Islam, most branches of Judaism and most Protestant faiths. If you are unsure or uncomfortable about your faith’s stand on organ donation, you can talk to a member of your clergy.
Myth I’m under 18-years-old. I’m too young to be allowed to make this decision.
Fact Legally, this is true, but your parents can authorise this decision. You can talk to your parents about your wish to donate, and they can give their consent. Children, are also in need of transplants, and they usually need organs smaller than those that an adult can provide.
Myth My family will be charged if I donate my organs.
Fact The organ donor’s family is never charged for the donation. The family is charged for the cost of the effort doctor’s put in to save your life, and these are sometimes misinterpreted as costs related to organ donation.
TALKING TO YOUR FAMILY
The best way to ensure that your wishes are carried out is to write them down. Include your preferences for a against donations in your will. If you have designated someone to make your medical decisions for you (in case you become unable to do so), make sure that they are aware of your desire to be an organ donor. It’s also important to tell your family that you want to be a donor. Hospitals seek consent from the next of kin before removing organs, although this is usually not required, if you are a registered organ donor. We can’t give you a specific guide about how to have the discussion with your family — this is something that you need to figure out yourself. It may be a good idea to bring up the topic of organ donation, find your family’s perspective, and inform them about your wish to be an organ donor accordingly.
YOUR HEALTH AND DONATION
Few medical conditions automatically disqualify you from donating organs. Doctors can decide whether or not to use a particular organ. Also, remember that it’s possible that some of your organs will be suitable for transplantation, while others may not. It goes without saying that a donor should be free of any major health problem including diabetes, viral infections (such as HBV and HCV), cardiac problems and/or any other disease that increases the risks that are associated with the surgery.
Your mental health, on the other hand, plays a role in whether or not you will be able to donate your organs. “Good mental health is a pre-requisite for a person to voluntarily decide whether they want to be donors. This evaluation is usually performed can be done by a psychiatrist and is a legal requirement for the process of donation,” explains Dr. Vijay Vij, director of liver transplant and HPB surgery at Fortis hospital.
And, what if you’re a smoker or a heavy drinker? Dr. Vij tells us, “The team operating on the patient decides the quality of the lungs to be retrieved. But, generally speaking, the lungs of heavy smokers (when affected to a certain point) are considered to be unfit for donation. Similarly, donating a liver also depends on your physician’s assessment. Following protocol, heavy drinkers are not accepted as living donors because of an increased risk to both the patient and the donor.”
In recent news, a successful heart transplant saved the life of a 23-year-old girl. The donor, a 58-year-old man, suffered from a brain haemorrhage. The patient was referred to Fortis Memorial Research Institute (FMRI) when the doctors at a nearby hospital failed to revive him. The heart reached the recipient in just 27 minutes and 56 seconds, and the surgical procedure for the transplant took four hours to be completed.
What is ZTCC?
ZTCC is a non-profit NGO that has been acting as a coordinating agency for Mumbai and its suburbs since 2001. All hospitals in Mumbai and Thane that are registered as transplant hospitals are members of ZTCC, which maintains a transplant registry and a list of patients who are waiting for organs. The NGO helps coordinate between the hospital where an organ might be donated and the hospital where that organ may be required.