It was October, 1983 when I learned I needed a liver transplant because of a rare illness. I was told I had between two and six years to live. I didn't know if I would see my 3-year-old daughter start kindergarten.
In 1985 I learned that a surgical technique had been created that meant a liver transplant might be a possibility. But it was considered experimental surgery so my insurance wouldn't cover it. I would need $100,000 “up front” money before I could even be considered for a transplant. That was only 17 years ago.
By the time I received my new liver in 1989 it was covered by insurance. It's been a long and sometimes bumpy road, but I still have my “new” liver and I love every day of my “second chance” at life.
You don't hear much these days about organ transplants. They have become commonplace. Many of us know someone who needs or has received a life saving transplant. It is hard to realize that less than a generation ago medical researchers experimenting with organ transplants were thought of in terms similar to those of today considering cloning or genetic engineering.
Thank goodness for the work of pioneers in transplantation and medicines. They are responsible for so many being alive today. We know so much more today. The rate of success in transplants is very high. People are living longer, healthier lives because of their new organs. We also know that there are people willing to be donors who unfortunately never have the chance because they have failed to discuss their desires with their family and friends.
It was a very hot spring in St. Louis in 1989. The temperatures were in the 90s. A young man I will never know was out enjoying a ride and met a tragic end. His family courageously decided to donate his organs. Their concern for others in the midst of their own grief made new life for up to seven people. I was one of the lucky seven.
Some people on the waiting list aren't as lucky. When families don't know the wishes of their loved one they tend to say “no” to donation. Many die because there aren't enough organs. However, on Monday, just two days from now, important changes are taking effect in Ohio that will hopefully increase the number of donations. The state of Ohio is making a change that will assure the wishes of potential donors are observed.
In the past if you were willing to be an organ donor you said “yes” when you renewed your driver's license at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), or you signed a card and carried it with you. However, that didn't always ensure that upon your death you would be a donor. Your family was always asked to decide on your behalf. Thus, the main slogan for the past several years has been “Share your life, share your decision.” It was and remains important to talk to your family about your wishes regarding donation.
Starting Monday, when you go to an Ohio BMV office your “yes” to donation provides legal consent for the anatomical gift of your organs, tissues, and eyes upon your death. To keep track of your decision, Ohio has created a Donor Registry that will be administered by the BMV. A statewide list will be created of all those who have agreed to be organ, tissue, and/or eye donors. Since this is a major change in the donation process it is important for Ohioans to understand the new law and how the donor registry works.
Much of the donation process remains the same. When death is imminent or has occurred, notification is made to the area Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) to determine if the person meets the medical criteria to be a candidate for donation. If the answer is “no” the process stops there.
If the answer is “yes” an OPO coordinator seeks to learn more from the medical personnel attending the patient. Only after it is determined that the person qualifies medically as a candidate is there contact between the OPO representative and the family of the potential donor. Everything will be done to save a person's life regardless of their decision about donation. Only when death is imminent or has occurred is the patient considered for donation.
The changes in the donation process occur in regard to who makes the decision about whether the donation will be made. In all cases the family will be approached to learn more about the deceased. However, if the deceased has agreed to donate at the BMV after July 1, family permission will not be necessary for donation to take place. The decision will now be that of the patient who made a legal declaration of his intention when he signed up for the Ohio Donor Registry at the BMV.
If the deceased agreed to be an organ donor before July 1, the decision is not considered to be “informed consent” and the family will still make the final call. So if you want to make sure you are a donor you are encouraged to go to the BMV after July 1 and state your wishes.
The typical process for being listed on the Ohio Donor Registry is to register when you renew your driver's license or apply for the first time. You can also register if you get a state ID card. A third way is to fill out a “Donor Registry Consent Form” available at any BMV office.
Individuals who are in the registry will have one of three designations:
1. “Yes” indicates consent for organ, tissue, and eye donation as provided for by Ohio law. These will be people who have expressed their desire to donate after July 1.
2. “Unlisted” indicates unknown intent of the individual regarding donation. These are people who had agreed to donation before July 1, but because that decision was not considered Informed Consent at the time it was made, it is not legally binding.
3. “Form on File” indicates that the individual has designated specific organs/tissues for donation or specific use of donated organs/tissue. These are people who have registered their intent to be a donor, but who have specific requests attached to their decision. Again, a form for this may be obtained at your BMV.
Donation of organs has slowly increased in recent years. However, the need keeps going up as well. Nationally the waiting list contains nearly 80,000 names; about 3,000 are from Ohio.
My daughter will graduate next spring from Johns Hopkins University. She plans to study medicine. We keep trying to give back. I hope you will, too. Register your “yes” decision with the BMV.
You can't take it with you, but you can pass it on.
William Chidester is pastor of the Sylvania United Church of Christ.