Organ and Tissue Donors | Personal Story | Resources

Personal Story

April is National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Month

Did you know that more than 80,400 patients nationwide are currently on waiting lists for organ transplants? About 750 are from South Florida. The success rates of transplant surgery have improved remarkably in recent years, but growing shortages exist in the supply of organs and tissues. Many Americans who need transplants cannot get them. In fact, every day 16 patients will die waiting for an organ transplant. Here are some facts everyone should know:

  • More than 5,800 patients die each year because a transplant is not available.
  • Nearly 23,000 transplant operations were performed last year, but fewer than 12,000 people donated organs.
  • More than 2,200 patients on the national waiting list are children.
  • It is possible to transplant 25 different organs and tissues, including corneas, heart, heart valves, liver, kidneys, bone and cartilage, bone marrow, skin, pancreas, lungs, intestine and more.

Karen RodgersKaren Rodgers, Regulatory Specialist I, in AHCA's Area 3 Medicaid office, is living proof that organ donation saves lives. In 1977, Karen gave birth by C-section to a beautiful baby boy. She did not learn until years later that the blood used in the transfusion she received was tainted and that she had contracted Hepatitis C, a disease that attacks the liver. It remained dormant in her body until 1992 when she was diagnosed.

At the time, not a lot was known about Hepatitis C except that it was considered more dangerous than Hepatitis A and B. Because there was no known cure, Karen was only given Prednisone to reduce inflammation and control the symptoms. By the spring of 1996, Karen's body had swollen so badly she could not even wear shoes. Her physician referred her to Shands Liver Clinic to be evaluated for a transplant. Karen was told she could probably expect to receive a liver within the next five years. However, her condition worsened every day, and by the fall she was diagnosed with chronic internal bleeding and had to be rushed by ambulance to Shands for immediate transplantation.

After several attempts to find a suitable liver, a donor was identified and the successful surgery was completed in 10 and a half hours. On December 18, 1996, Karen was released from the hospital and returned home to spend the holidays with her family. All she ever knew about the donor was that he was a male in his 40s. "Life will never be the same for me. I'm sorry he had to die, but because of his generosity and that of his family, I have been given another chance at life and I'm so grateful to be here for my family."

Karen with display
Karen with Life Quest display and Memory Quilt

Because of her experience, Karen volunteers each year with the Saturn National Donor Day. Consumers can donate blood or pledge to donate blood, be added to the National Marrow Donor Program Registry, and/or complete an organ and tissue donation pledge card at the dealerships. She and two other transplant recipients have also started an all organ support group that meets regularly at Shands called New Life. Karen also speaks at local Moose Lodge meetings, where she is a member, about her experience. "The Moose Lodge has an account at local blood centers for members to donate blood. Lodge members are given access to the blood bank at no cost except for the administration fee. They also encourage members to sign organ donor cards." Even Karen's dad has amended his will to become a donor.

Florida's Organ and Tissue Donor Education Program is coordinated jointly between the Florida Department of Highway Safety/Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) and AHCA. The DHSMV handles enrollment of donors statewide through the driver license examination offices. Donor information is then transmitted to AHCA where it is maintained in the Organ/Tissue Donor Registry, which is housed in the Division of Health Quality Assurance, Laboratory Unit. AHCA's registry is an online database accessible to Organ Transplant facilities throughout the country, but most frequently accessed by facilities seeking to verify if an individual is a donor.

AHCA's registry currently has over 3.2 million participants, and grows at a weekly rate of approximately 5,000. Though these numbers are impressive, they fall short of meeting the ever-growing needs of individuals on waiting lists. Because of breakthroughs in transplant technology, more and more individuals can now benefit from transplants resulting in higher waiting list numbers.

Organ donation is truly a unique opportunity to save lives. It is possible for a single donor to donate organs and tissues that may help as many as 60 recipients. We often think of organ donation as a means of "saving" lives. There is also an enormous potential for improving the quality of lives of many individuals. Eyes, bone and skin are not necessary to sustain life, but extending the joy of sight to an otherwise sightless child, or restoring a damaged limb to someone who would unnecessarily be handicapped are opportunities that modern science and healthcare have brought to all of us.

Outside Sources: American Medical Association


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