Organ Donation Remains Critical Need Across Region, Nation

SPRINGFIELD — If you haven’t made any new year’s resolutions yet, here’s an easy one to make and keep in 2012 — resolve to become an organ donor.

“Your decision to become a donor will make a big difference in someone’s life, and as one donor you can help more than 50 people needing organs or tissues,” said Dr. George Lipkowitz, medical director of the Transplant Division at Baystate Medical Center.

Even though hundreds of thousands of people have provided the gift of life through a commitment to organ donation, there is still a critical need for organ, tissue, marrow, and blood donation, noted Lipkowitz. More than 112,000 people are on the nation’s organ transplant waiting list. And, on average, 18 patients die each day while awaiting an organ.

“At Baystate Medical Center alone, we have a list of more than 150 patients waiting for a new kidney,” he said.

Making your wishes known is easy, he added. Potential donors need only to sign a donor card or indicate their wishes on their driver’s license, or register online at www.donatelifenewengland.org/register.

However, while a signed donor card, online registration, and a driver’s license with an organ-donor designation are legal documents, organ and tissue donation should always be discussed with family members prior to any donation.

“That is why it is very important that you make your wishes known in advance to your family about your desire to donate your organs,” said Lipkowitz.

Believing you are too old to become a donor is a common myth, he noted, adding that anyone, regardless of age, should consider themselves as a potential donor. “Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated.”

On average, nearly 8 million people join a state donor registry each year, with a vast majority (97{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}) joining through state departments of motor vehicles. However, because the number of transplant patients continues to rise, there is still a critical need for organ, tissue, marrow, and blood donation.

While great strides have been made in educating the public about deceased donations, there are many factors contributing to a decline in available organs, especially kidneys, as a more safety-conscious public results in fewer accidental deaths. Today, more and more people are making a difference in someone’s life by becoming a living kidney donor, offering a child or adult in Western Mass. an alternative to waiting on the national transplant list for a kidney from a deceased donor. Those altruistic donors will be donating one of their two healthy kidneys, and after the transplant surgery will resume normal, active lives.

There are several benefits for a patient who receives a kidney from a living donor, including a higher success rate, a better genetic match (which lessens the risk of rejection), and scheduling of the transplant surgery at a time that is convenient for both the donor and the recipient.

Deciding whether you want to be a living kidney donor involves careful consideration. All potential donors must be in good health and, before being accepted as a living donor, will undergo a number of medical tests by the transplant team to make sure they are a suitable candidate. Living kidney donors must be over the age of 18 and have a blood type that is compatible with that of the recipient.

Baystate Medical Center offers the only transplant service in Western Mass. for adult and pediatric patients requiring kidney transplants. Transplant surgeons use the latest techniques, including minimally invasive surgery, so that patients experience a faster recovery and spend less time in the hospital. In addition to experienced surgeons, the Baystate transplant team includes nephrologists, transplant coordinators, dietitians, pharmacists, and social workers. Renal transplant from living or deceased donors is offered as treatment of end-stage renal disease.

To learn more about becoming a living kidney donor, call Baystate Medical Center’s Transplant Services at (413) 794-2321. To learn more about organ and tissue donation, contact LifeChoice Donor Services at (800) 874-5215.