When a loved one dies, we go through a whirlwind of emotions. Many of us need to deal with arrangements for the funeral which only adds to the stress. Depending on how a loved one passed away, organ donation becomes a very real possibility and if you are the next-of-kin, you might find yourself discussing it with a doctor. Organs from one individual can save the lives of up to 7 other people and 50 more people can be helped with tissue donations.

I want to be an organ donor

If you are considering becoming an organ and/or tissue donor, there are some things you should know so you can make an informed decision. First and foremost, organs and tissue are considered separately for donation. If you become an organ donor, you are consenting that a trained medical professional can transplant your heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys, and lungs. Tissue donations include your corneas, skin, bone, tendons, and heart valves. You can choose to be the donor of one but not the other. The window in which tissue donations can be collected and transplanted is much larger than for organ donations and are actually very common. Bone tissue transplants are second to blood transfusions as the most common transplant performed on patients.

If you decide to become a donor, you should make your choice and wishes very clear to your next-of-kin that will have a say in what happens to your body after death. Though you have already made the decision, your next-of-kin will still be consulted by a coordinator from the Tissue Bank before the removal of organs takes place. They also have to sign a Consent Form. If your wishes come as a surprise to them, it can delay the process and medical staff lose valuable time. This consultation is also important if you have decided that there are specific organs or tissues that you do not want to donate. Your next-of-kin can communicate this to the doctors to ensure your wishes are fulfilled.

To become an organ and tissue donor, you can register on the Organ Donor Foundation’s website. They will send you a card to fill out and keep in your wallet as well as stickers to place in your ID and on your driver’s license. You can also contact Medic Alert or Elixir Medical Shields to obtain a donor bracelet, necklace, or disk. Should you change your mind about being a donor, simply remove the stickers from your identifying documents, tear up your organ donor card and put away your bracelet, necklace, or disk. You should also inform your next-of-kin, so they are up to date on your wishes.

You can also add your organ donor status by going to your Facebook Timeline and clicking “Life Event.” You can include the date and location of when you registered as an organ donor, as well as a story about why you chose to become a donor.

To share that you’re an organ donor on your timeline:

  1. Tap in the top right of Facebook, then tap your name.
  2. Tap Life Event at the top of your timeline.
  3. Tap Health and wellbeing.
  4. Type in Organ Donor.
  5. Select your date and tap Post.

I didn’t know my loved one is an organ/tissue donor

If your loved one passed away and a doctor is talking to you about organ donations, it can be a bit of a shock. If you know that he/she is a donor, we would encourage you to give your blessing for the medical staff to carry out his/her wishes. If your loved one wasn’t an organ donor and the doctors ask you to donate, there are some things you might want to know.

When you agree to donate your loved one’s organs, you will not know who receives them. The intended recipient is chosen purely on clinical criteria. Race, religious beliefs, political affiliations, culture, language, or any other aspect of the deceased person’s or recipient’s life is not taken into account. You can, however, be assured that the utmost respect is given to the donor at all times. Surgeons and trained medical staff take great care in recovering the tissue and organs and the process will not change the way the body looks.

All potential organ donors are patients on support systems and organ recovery can only take place if the donor is declared brain dead. The criteria for brain death is strictly adhered to and accepted medically, legally, and ethically in South Africa and internationally. Two doctors, who are independent of the transplant team, perform detailed tests before brain death can be declared.

Give it some thought

Organ and tissue donation can literally be a lifesaver. It is something you should think about seriously for yourself and your next-of-kin. It can help make the decision and process easier for your loved ones if they are asked for the go-ahead to donate your organs. If you think about it now and decide how you feel about it, it will also make it easier for you should you be asked for your consent to donate a next-of-kin’s organs. Give the Gift of Life…