The miracle and gift of organ donation
Published 11:36 am Monday, May 1, 2023
I’ve worked in healthcare my entire adult life and remain amazed by advances in medical technology, new medicines, and contemporary surgical procedures.
I served as a dialysis nurse at a hemodialysis clinic early in my nursing career. Caring for my patients three times a week for several hours of treatment, I often became close to them. One of the most exciting times during this position was when a patient on the transplant list had a beeper go off! It was a huge celebration and a rush to quickly remove them from dialysis and get them to the transplant center!
In April, we celebrated National Donate Life Month. Through this article, I hope to catch your attention on the life-saving possibilities of organ transplantation and the dire need for organ donors.
At any given time, more than 105,000 people in the U.S. are on a transplant list. The need is great, yet the pool of available healthy organs is small. Every nine minutes, another person is added to the list, while seventeen people die each day waiting for an organ match. For each organ/eye/tissue donor, we can heal or save more than seventy-five lives.
Post-Circulatory Death Donation: Historically, donated organs came from donors who died from brain death while the heart continued to beat. Medical advances now allow the transplantation of organs where the heart has stopped beating. As a result, up to thirty percent of all organ donations now come from such donors.
Organ Perfusion Systems: Mechanical devices called organ perfusion systems help organs remain viable at body temperature outside the body. For example, the “heart in a box” is a technology that resuscitates a stopped heart and can keep it beating for up to eight hours before it’s transplanted. There are similar devices that preserve lungs and livers outside the body. The new perfusion technology has doubled the transplant window.
Organs from Hepatitis C-positive Donors: Organs from hepatitis C-positive donors were not considered viable. But because of a new generation of antiviral medications, these organs are now safely transplanted into patients. After the organs are transplanted, patients begin antiviral therapy that typically eliminates the virus from the body within seven days.
Stem Cell Therapy: Since its inception in the 1980s, stem cell research has advanced significantly, and today we are on the cusp of miraculous developments. The patient’s stem cells divide into “daughter cells,” which can become new stem cells or evolve into any specialized cell in the body. Under the right conditions, stem cells can replace damaged cells. Researchers now believe stem cells can grow new organs. Think about the magnitude of this promise!
In theory, organs grown from the patient’s stem cells would be accepted by the body, eliminating the need for anti-rejection medication and reducing the overall risk of transplantation. Other applications of stem cell technology include treating disease and genetic conditions. For example, we’ve learned from one study that manipulated bone marrow cells transplanted into two young boys halted the growth of a fatal brain disease called adrenoleukodystrophy. Countless promising applications suggest stem cell therapy is the future of medicine.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Locally, we work with LifeShare Carolinas. Their position statement is “Honoring the wishes of organ, eye, and tissue donors—giving hope, life, and healing.” I share this information to ask that you consider becoming an organ donor and communicating those wishes to your family.
Your donation can help save lives. And your financial gifts help fund public education to inspire more people to give the gift of life and to support donor families through the Bridge to Healing program.
If you have a healthcare topic of interest or want to learn more about St. Luke’s Hospital, send me a note at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org. Also, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, or visit our website at StLukesNC.org.