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Organ donation worldwide and in South Africa is seen as a “Gift for Life”. The good news is that all of us can bestow this gift on others.
Organ transplants are now so successful that many lives are saved this way. Every day more critically ill patients are added to the waiting list but unfortunately, this is happening faster than organs are available. As a result many people, who could have lived if they had had a transplant, die each year.
The Organ Donor Foundation (ODF) is a non-profit charity, established to address the critical shortage of organ and tissue donors in South Africa through awareness and education campaigns.
According to the ODF, there are currently over 3,500 South Africans waiting for organ and tissue transplants. Sadly, as a result of this critical shortage, less than 1,000 of them will receive a transplant and the "Gift of Life" this year.
Research has shown that organ donation is acceptable to the majority of South Africans and contrary to popular belief, a grieving family takes great comfort from the knowledge that they were able to help others through the donation of their loved one's organs and tissues.
All of us need to think positively about the prospect to donate our organs to a waiting person whose life may be saved by receiving the necessary organ. After all, once we die we do not need our organs anymore, so why burn or bury something that can give life to others? One donor can save the lives of several others and restore the sight of two more people.
What organs can be transplanted?
Kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, corneas, bone, bone marrow and skin can be donated. As techniques improve, it may in future be possible to transplant other parts of the body as well.
In some cases live donations are possible – such as a kidney. However, these donations are nearly always between close relatives, such as a parent to a child, or brother to brother, because the blood groups and tissue types must be compatible to give a high success rate.
Who can donate an organ?
Anyone under the age of 70 who is in good health can be a donor, in other words anybody with no sign of cancer, diabetes, hepatitis B or infectious diseases such as HIV/Aids. Anyone younger than 18 years will require parental permission to become a donor.
Put your wish in writing
If there is written evidence of your wish, such as your donor card, families have to accept that and after death your wishes should be respected. Discussing your wish to become an organ donor in time will make it easier for your family to reach a decision when a doctor or transplant coordinator approaches them in a time of tragedy. If you register with the ODF, they will send you an organ donor card.
Can doctors really establish when a person is dead?
Two doctors have to carry out a series of tests independently in order to confirm that a person is brain dead. Only when brain death has occurred can the organs be donated. Brain-stem death usually results because of a severe brain injury that causes all brain activity to stop. It can be caused by a major road accident, a gunshot wound, a stab wound or a fatal stroke.
Can doctors keep the body alive with machines?
A patient who is brain dead cannot recover. Machines can merely keep the blood circulating after death. This is done to get blood to organs in order to use them for transplantation.
When so requested confidentiality is maintained except in the case of living donors where transplants are usually done within the same family.
How to become a potential organ donor
Just follow these two easy steps: