Organ and Tissue Donation
On its website, the Canadian Transplant Society shares that over 1,600 Canadians are added to organ wait lists yearly; 90% of Canadians support organ and tissue donation but less than 25% have made plans to donate; and one donor can benefit more than 75 people and save up to 8 lives.
How to Become an Organ Donor
Fortunately, you can do something to positively change those numbers simply by electing to become an organ and tissue donor. It takes minutes to register through your provincial organization; all the links can be found on the following websites: Canadian Transplant Society and Canadian Transplant Association. Both of those sites along with the provincial websites provide a wealth of information about your consent and additional steps to follow.
If you’re confused about organ and tissue donation and have questions, the Trillium Gift of Life Network has an excellent Frequently Asked Questions section on its website with answers to general, transplant, financial, healthcare professionals, and donation questions. While the organization is based in Ontario, most of the facts apply across Canada.
Organ Donation Myths
Please find below some common organ donation myths discussed by Colleen Shelton (UHN Multi-Organ Transplant Program) and Kevin Bradley (Trillium Gift of Life) at a public seminar.
MYTH: Only young people in perfect heath can donate.
Fact: Age is not as important as the health of the organs and tissue. The oldest Canadian organ donor so far was more than 90 years of age, and the oldest tissue donor was 102. Even if a potential donor has had a serious illness such as cancer, that does not automatically exclude him/her from becoming a donor. It depends on the type of illness, and when the person was treated. Ultimately, several factors are taken into consideration, such as the health of the organs and tissue at the time of death.
MYTH: Not everything may be done to save my life if I decide to donate because of the shortage of organs.
Fact: When a patient goes to the hospital, every effort is made to save that person's life, and to provide the best and most effective treatments possible. A specialist and health team in that patient's illness is the one who cares for the patient. That physician is not part of the transplant team. The possibility of donation is considered only when all life-saving efforts have failed, brain death has been declared, and the family agree that donation should occur.
MYTH: If I decide to donate, I may not really be dead when they decide to remove my organs.
Fact: Almost all organ donors must be in a state called brain death, which is irreversible brain damage and loss of brain function, along with the cessation of breathing and other vital reflexes. People cannot recover from brain death. Brain death and comas are not the same—people can recover from comas. Moreover, the declaration of death of an organ donor is done without the involvement of the transplant team.
MYTH: My religion does not accept organ donation.
Fact: Most major religions are in favour of organ donation. If you are unsure, consult your faith leader. Restrictions may not apply if the donation could save another's life.
MYTH: People who donate organs cannot have an open casket funeral.
Fact: All recovery of donated organs and tissues is done with dignity, by surgeons who respect the body and use precise surgical skill to remove the organs. The procedure does not affect the appearance of the body, nor funeral practices, and nobody will be able to tell that the deceased was an organ donor.
MYTH: A person's financial or celebrity status gives him/her preference in receiving an organ.
Fact: Trillium Gift of Life Network keeps a list of everyone in Ontario who is waiting for an organ and determines who gets an available organ. The severity of a patient's illness, blood and tissue type match, and other medical information determine who gets the organ first. If the medical urgency between two people is the same, the individual who's been on the waiting list the longest will receive the organ.
MYTH: Transplants don't really work, so why bother?
Fact: Transplantation is one of modern medicine's success stories. By donating your organs and tissues, you can save at least eight lives, and improve many more. Many families say that knowing their loved one helped save other lives helped them cope with their loss.
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