By Stephanie Simons,
Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire
One organ donor can save up to eight lives, and improve the quality of life for another 75 patients. With approximately 120,000 people currently on the US national transplant waiting list (of which Bermuda is a part), every donor is valuable. Unfortunately, more people are in need of an organ transplant than are registered to donate, and approximately 22 people on that waiting list die each day, before they receive the organ that they need.
Organ transplants are pursued after all other medical treatment options have failed. Hearts, lungs, livers and small intestines can be transplanted. A kidney transplant can save a life and relieve a recipient from having to undergo dialysis treatments. Diabetics can be free from insulin injections with a pancreas transplant. Bones can be transplanted to save limbs; corneas can restore vision; and skin can relieve burn victims. Heart valves, veins, tendons, and ligaments can also be transplanted.
On January 1 this year, France passed a law of “presumed consent”, an approach that makes all citizens organ donors unless they sign a refusal register. This opt-out approach has been adopted by many countries around the world, including Austria, Spain and Belgium. According to the World Health Organisation, these countries experienced an increase in organ donations of 25 to 30 percent.
Bermuda, however, in partnership with the New England Organ Bank, the oldest independent organ procurement organisation in the US, works on an opt-in approach to organ donors.
Unfortunately, this means that potential donors are not always identified: while 95 percent of adults in the US support the idea of organ donations, less than half have actually registered. This is often simply a matter of not getting around to doing it.
Valentine’s Day is recognised in the US as National Donor Day, to mark the importance of taking a few minutes to register as an organ donor. In Bermuda, registering is easy; donor cards are available at TCD, doctors’ offices and post offices, and intention may also be indicated on a driver’s licence. Carrying a signed donor card is the easiest way to make your intentions known.
It is important to discuss your intentions with family, to avoid potential conflicts. In Bermuda, the next of kin has the ultimate say in whether organs are donated for transplant, so it is essential to have a conversation with loved ones about your intentions, and why the decision is important to you.
Almost anyone can be a donor. Registering to become a donor will never affect the quality of medical treatment a potential donor receives – every effort will always be made to save a life, and donation is considered only after death has been declared. There is no cost to the donor or the donor’s next of kin. It is illegal to buy or sell organs and there are strict guidelines surrounding donation policies and organ distribution.
A donor’s health condition will be assessed at the time of donation, however, apart from serious conditions, most people are eligible to donate. Staying healthy will not only ensure your organs are valuable to a transplant recipient, it will also help to keep you off the waiting list yourself. While many people on the transplant waiting list suffer from genetic disorders or disease or illness over which they have no control, some transplants could be avoided through lifestyle choices.
Avoid potential health issues by eating a healthy diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables and low in fat and sodium. Exercise regularly. If you smoke, stop; talk to a pharmacist about your options for help. Your pharmacist can also recommend vitamins and nutrient supplements that can help you to lead a healthy life and be an organ donor, not recipient.
This February 14, buy your valentine something special, and then head to TCD, your doctor’s office or the nearest post office and complete an organ donor card. Sharing your heart on Valentine’s Day is nothing new; ensuring that your intentions as an organ donor are clear is the ultimate gift. For more information on becoming an organ donor, visit www.bermudahospitals.bm/bhb/donor/donate-organ.asp.
Stephanie Simons is the head pharmacist at Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and has been practicing for over 20 years. She is a registered pharmacist with the Bermuda Pharmacy Council and is a member of the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association.