Commentary: Organ donors save lives, but only slightly more than half of adults have signed donor cards
Registering to be an organ donor is one of the most selfless things a person can do. In a final act of kindness, organ donation gives complete strangers a second chance at life.
It is one of the most extraordinary things to witness, and as we prepare for another Donate Life Awareness Month, I find myself just as moved at how an organ donor’s last act in this world is to extend the life of someone else.
Recipients have described life-saving donations as “miracles,” and indeed they are. Only one in every 1,000 people die in such a way that might allow for organ donation. Of those, about half are signed up to be organ donors.
One organ donor may save up to eight lives. One tissue donor may change the life of up to 55 individuals.
While 95% of U.S. adults support the idea of organ donation, only 54% have actually signed up as donors, and the registration rate in California is much less at 36%. More than 119,000 men, women and children are on the national transplant waiting list, and each day 22 people die waiting for a transplant, others become too sick to have a transplant operation.
When you think about the good that it can do for someone else, becoming a registered organ donor takes on a certain urgency and gravity. When you meet the families of those who donated their organs, you realize something else: Donating organs does not just offer a chance to prolong the life of the recipient, it prolongs the legacy of the donor as well.
Hoag has a long-standing commitment to saving and changing lives through organ, eye and tissue donation through its collaboration with OneLegacy, a nonprofit organ procurement organization.
To honor those selfless lifesaving gifts, Hoag created the Tree of Life, designed by local artist Tova Rotlevy Cohen, that bears the names of Hoag organ donors on its leaves.
Since its installation in 2011, the Tree of Life has served as a place for families to visit and reflect on the gifts from their loved ones, and to inspire others to become donors. Every year, as new names are added to the branches, I hope it inspires others to become donors as well.
The idea of never looking into a loved one’s eyes again is agony. But the knowledge that those eyes could still take in the world, experience life and express emotions — that would be powerful beyond measure.
ROSEMARY O’MEEGHAN is an intensivist and chair of the Hoag Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation Program.
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