More than half a million Indians are estimated to be in dire need of an organ transplant. Yet, less than a thousand transplants from deceased donors are performed each year. Some of these people will find a living donor who will donate an organ to them. The rest will probably die waiting for an organ. You can help. Here are 10 things everyone should know about organ donation.
1) First off, there is a common misconception that organs can be donated by anyone after their death. That is not true. Donations following a cardiac death are donations of tissues, that are eyes, skin, bones, heart-valves. You can even donate your body for research. But once a person dies a cardiac death, organs like the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, intestines also die from lack of blood supply. So donation of vital organs is not possible once the heart stops beating.
It is only in the case of brain death, when it’s determined that the brain has ceased working (no electrical activity, blood flow or function in the brain) and the condition is irreversible, that a person can donate his/her organs. Even though the person is Brain Dead, it’s still possible to sustain organ function through use of a ventilator. Therefore organ donations (transplantation of organs from a donor to a waiting recipient) can only happen when a person is already in a hospital on a ventilator and then brain death occurs. This is called deceased organ donation.
2) Many families refuse to accept brain death as a form of death. In this situation, when the heart is still beating artificially, it makes the declaration of brain death extremely hard, especially since the concept is unknown to many. Lack of clarity makes the already emotional family unwilling to accept death. Watch this short and easy to understand film on what brain death is.
The family may also be sceptical about the intentions of the hospital. They feel that it is either due to the lack of motivation on the part of the hospital to continue with the treatment, or their interest in getting organs which is pushing them to declare brain death.
The truth is that the medical fraternity follows very strict standards laid down by the Transplantation of Human Organs Act 1994, to determine if a person is brain dead or not.
In India, a panel of 4 doctors has to declare you brain dead before your organs can be harvested. One of these is the registered medical practitioner in charge of the hospital, a registered medical practitioner approved by the government, the treating physician, and a neurologist/neurosurgeon/intensivist/surgeon also approved by the government to declare a brain death.
This panel will declare the brain death only after a series of exhaustive tests, which are repeated twice with a gap of six hours. In most countries around the world, these tests are done only once.
3) Brain death is NOT coma. Coma is a state of deep unconsciousness, where the brain continues to function and the person can breathe on his/her own, without the help of a ventilator. Brain activities can be seen through various tests. Thus the brain still has the capacity to heal, and the person can come out of coma. If there is even a slight amount of activity in the brain or any reflexes, the person will not be declared brain dead, and the same will be communicated to their families.
Brain death results from such severe injury (like a roadside accident or a stroke) that the damage is permanent and all functions of the brain stop totally. It is not possible to recover from Brain Death. A brain death person is not suffering from Brain Death. He/She is dead.
4) No organ donation can be carried out without the consent of the next of kin. Unlike in many western countries where people can make the choice in their lifetime and it’s legally binding, in India no donation can happen unless the next of kin agree. The final choice is left to the family. So it’s crucial that you speak to your family about your intention to be an organ donor, should anything happen. Even if you decide to pledge your organs, if your family says no at the time, then it’s a no.
5) You should know that one organ donor can save up to 9 lives and positively affect up to 50 others if all organs and tissues are used effectively! 2 kidneys, 2 lungs, heart, liver can be split into two and help save two people, intestine, pancreas and sometimes even the small bowel can save a life. In addition to vital organs, corneas, skin, bones, heart valves etc can significantly improve peoples’ lives.
6) Your organs will not be sold. They will be given to the most needy donors at the hospital you are at or at other hospitals in the city or even country. Just this week, a heart was flown from Bangalore to a patient at a hospital in Chennai for a life saving transplant!
7) There is time limit within which families have to decide if they want to donate their loved ones’ organs. Despite the ventilator, once brain death occurs, the organs will start to fail. It’s very difficult for doctors to maintain the organs at a level where they are still suitable for transplantation. This is why awareness is crucial so that families are already aware of organ donation and can decide whether they want to go through with it or not.
8) Your body will not be mutilated during the retrieval of organs. There is a single incision made through which organs will be retrieved, and the body will be cleaned, stitched and handed back to the family in the most respectful manner. No one will be able to notice that anything is amiss.
9) Despite India being the world’s second most populous country, it has a pathetic deceased donation rate of just 0.26 per million population compared to 26 in the US, 35 in Spain and 36.5 in Croatia – which has the highest organ donation rate in the world! In the West, most transplants are dependent on deceased donors. In India, most transplants are dependent on living donors. (Livers and kidneys can be transplanted from living donors to other living donors.)
10) In 2013, considered to be one of the best years for organ transplantation in India, just 852 transplants, including heart, lung, liver and kidney, were carried out, even as lakhs waited for an organ to give them a fresh lease of life. In the US, this figure was 22,966. The figures speak for themselves. The rest is your choice. Pledge your organs during your lifetime. Talk to your family. Save lives.
Look, MissMalini is an organ donor too.
For more information on organ donation, log on to www.organindia.org, where you can also fill out a form and claim your donor card. We will mail it to you within two weeks. Or call us at 011-41838382 or 9818303306 if you have any questions. Visit our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ORGANINDIA