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Organ donations are gifts to save lives

For many people, it is the gift-giving season. Perhaps that makes it a good time to discuss a gift that is absolutely needed, but not easily put on anyone’s list.

I am talking about the gift of a donated organ. Today, there are almost 110,000 people waiting for a transplant organ in the United States.

From January to July 2010, there were 16,778 organ transplant operations. In Washington state, there are more than 1,700 people waiting for a transplant.

The list of those who need donated organs continues to grow, but the number of people willing to be donors if they should die is not keeping pace.

A single organ donor may save up to eight other people and yet about 18 people die every day in the United States while waiting for an organ transplant.

Some people think they are too old to be an organ donor or that their medical condition makes them ineligible or they have religious reservations.

In fact, you are never too old to be an organ donor. It is all about the condition of your organs.

A 60-year-old who has never smoked will probably have lungs more suitable for organ donation than a 35-year-old who has smoked for 15 years. Even with a medical condition, some of your organs may still be suitable for transplant.

Many religions support organ and tissue donation as a charitable act. Talk to your priest, minister, rabbi, imam or other spiritual adviser to see where your religion stands on donation. Read about various religious points of view at under “Donation Basics.”

A close family member of mine had a cornea transplant that saved her vision. People involved in accidents or who undergo surgery are frequently saved with a blood transfusion using donated blood.

A transplant of donated bone marrow can save the life of a person with leukemia.

Seventy-nine percent of people waiting for an organ are waiting for a kidney. One of my oldest and dearest grade school friends who has chronic kidney disease is finally at the point where she needs a kidney.

She is lucky since her two siblings were both willing to donate and her brother has turned out to be a match. It is hard to describe how happy I was when I heard the news.

A kidney, a portion of the liver, the pancreas, a lung and the intestines, blood, bone marrow, blood stem cells and the umbilical cord – all can be given as living donations.

A living donor needs to consider the risks to living donation. They include the surgery itself, recovery, impact on insurance coverage and possible delays in returning to work after the surgery if there are unforeseen complications.

I signed up to be an organ donor when I first got my driver’s license. You can register to be a donor when you get or renew your driver’s license and at, or you can call (877) 275-5269 and have a registration form mailed to you.

When you register to be a donor, you can even specify donation limitations and exclude particular organs if you prefer.

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane is one of the five transplant centers in Washington. So far this year, there have been 36 transplants done there. There have been 1,259 transplants since they began doing transplants at Sacred Heart in 1988.

In addition to the two websites mentioned earlier, you can also learn more about donation from the United Network for Organ Sharing ( and the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (

Tissue and organ donation changes everything for those who receive the gift, as well as for their friends and families. If you decide to be an organ donor, make sure your family and friends know and will follow through with the generous gift you want to give.

When you discuss the issue, you may be surprised to find yourself in the company of others whose lives have been affected by just such a decision.