Organ donors give the gift of a future

Twenty-two people die each day because the organ they need is not donated in time, according to Donate Life America, a nonprofit leading the efforts to raise donor awareness.

To that end, the organization has launched the National Donate Life Month initiative, which is celebrated each April.

About 114,000 patients in the United States are waiting for a life-saving transplant, and another person is added to the list every 10 minutes.

Awareness of the issue is essential and can save lives.

Thanks to those who have been involved in the initiative, thousands of people have had a chance to see the future, some of them local residents.

 

Receiving a future

Jaime Velez, of Tullahoma, received a new kidney last year.

Last month, James Hodge, of Tullahoma, who suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, received new lungs.

Other locals hope they will be just as lucky and a life-saving organ will be available when their turn comes.  

By the time patients are added to the transplant waiting list, their conditions have reached very serious stages. Many individuals live years battling a disease with the knowledge that one day they will need a new organ.

 

Lack of donors

Teresa Massey, of Manchester, is one of those people. She will need a liver transplant.

“A couple of years ago, I started feeling sick a lot – I had a lot of stomach issues,” Massey said. “I went to a local doctor and she started running tests. She saw things in my bloodwork that were not good, so she sent me on to a specialist to have more testing done.”

Massey found out she had stage 4 cirrhosis, caused from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

“In stage 4, the damage is done and the liver is at a point where it can no longer heal itself,” Massey said. “If you catch it early, you can make changes in your diet and lifestyle to stop the damage that is being done to your liver, and it would correct itself. But after so much of the liver is scarred and damaged, there is not enough good tissue to regenerate itself, so it will continue to decline and, at some point, I will have to have a liver transplant.”

For the moment, said Massey, she has been able to make lifestyle changes to stabilize her condition, trying to slow the progression of the disease.

“I am cautious about the medications I take and I cut out artificial sweeteners and chemicals that do affect the liver and that seems to help,” Massey said. “I don’t feel as bad as I did two years ago. I have good days and I have bad days.”

She knows, however, that stabilization is temporary and, eventually, she will need a transplant.

“Usually, they don’t put you on the transplant waiting list in Tennessee until you reach a certain score,” Massey said, adding that score is calculated to show the development of the condition.

“I am not to the point where I need to go on that list yet,” Massey said.

Massey hopes there will be a donor available for her when her name eventually does appear on that list.

“There are not enough donors,” Massey said. “I have a firm belief in trying to promote donor awareness. There are so many people waiting and not enough donors. More than 113,000 men, women and children are on the list as of January this year. Last year, only 26,500 transplants were done.”

Every day, 20 people die waiting because of lack of organ donations, she added.

“If we don’t get more people to become a donor, more people are going to die,” Massey said. “Every person that donated their organs can save eight lives from the major organs. Donors can help other people have a happier life and they can save lives. Register to become a donor and get involved – it’s that simple.”

 

‘It could be your own family member

Lori King, of Manchester, has also experienced the pain of knowing not enough donated organs are available for those who need them.

Her 15-year-old daughter, Emily, will need a kidney one day.

“Emily had some bloodwork done and we found out there was a problem,” King said. “They followed up with ultrasound last summer, which showed a cyst on her kidney. With kidney disease, there are five stages, and she is at the high end of stage 3. Her kidneys are only working at 54%. Her kidneys are slowly getting worse. The cyst is gone, but she now has a kidney stone.”

With a kidney disease, “there is no healing,” added King.

At some point, Emily will need a transplant. King urged locals to learn about organ donation and support the initiative.

“You should donate – it could be your own family member,” King said. “It’s my daughter, and that puts a different spin. She is only 15, and I am 52 – I want her to have the chance to be 52 one day, too.”

 

Donor awareness

Organ donation can be deceased donation or living donation.

The deceased donation process begins with a decision – the individuals decide if they want do donate organs to save people with end-stage organ disease.

People most frequently become donors after a stroke, heart attack or severe head injury, according to the United Network of Organ Sharing.

Living donation is when an organ is donated from an individual in good health.

Relatives, loved ones, friends and individuals who wish to remain anonymous may serve as living donors.

Nearly 7,000 transplants were made possible in 2018 by living donors, according to the United Network of Organ Sharing.

Living donors should be in good overall physical and mental health and more than 18 years old.

Some medical conditions could prevent individuals from being a living donor. Medical conditions that may prevent a living kidney donation may include uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, certain infections or an uncontrolled psychiatric condition.

The kidney is the most commonly transplanted organ from a living donor. One entire kidney is removed and transplanted. Living liver donations, where a segment of the donor’s liver is transplanted, occur less often, and the donor is usually related to the recipient.

Since some donor health conditions could harm a transplant recipient, it is important those interested in becoming a donor share all information about their physical and mental health. They must be fully informed of the known risks involved with donating and complete a full medical and psychosocial evaluation.

The decision to donate should be completely voluntary and free of pressure or guilt, according to the United Network of Organ Sharing.

The impact of one organ and donor affects many people.

According to tds.dcids.org, the Tennessee Donor Services website, one person can save up to eight lives through the donation of lungs, liver, heart, kidneys, pancreas and intestines.

One person can impact the lives of 75 or more people through tissue donation.

For more information about organ donation, visit tds.dcids.org and www.donatelife.net.

Elena Cawley may be reached via email at ecawley@tullahomanews.com.