Organ Donation is the donation of an organ or tissue from one person to another. Most donations come from people who have died while on ventilation support in a hospital intensive care unit. Organs, particularly hearts and lungs, deteriorate very quickly without an oxygen supply. The ventilator provides the necessary oxygen to help maintain the body until organs are retrieved, especially the heart that keeps distributing blood to the rest of the body.
If doctors caring for patients in the critical care areas in the hospital strongly believe there is no chance of recovery and that treatment is no longer in a patient's best interest, they will talk to the family and ask them about their relatives' end of life wishes. This may include asking about organ and tissue donation.
Patients receiving end of life care on other wards in the hospital may be asked about tissue donation.
What is tissue donation?
Tissue donation is the gift of tissue such as corneas, skin, bone, tendons, cartilage and heart valves. Most people can donate tissue. It may be possible to donate tissue up to 48 hours after a person has died.
• People with poor vision or eye injury have their sight restored by donated corneas.
• Bone, tendons and cartilage are used for reconstruction after an injury or during joint replacement surgery.
• Heart valves are used to help children born with heart defects and adults with diseased or damaged valves.
• Skin grafts are used to treat people with severe burns.
The Organ Donation Task Force Report
In 2008 the Department of Health published the Organ Donation Task force (ODTF) report. It included 14 recommendations to improve organ donation across the UK. One of the recommendations is to make donation a usual, not an unusual event.
Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have established an Organ Donation Committee to oversee all aspects regarding organ donation in the Trust. The aim of the committee is to implement ODTF recommendations. As well as promoting public awareness about organ and tissue donation, the committee provides education and support for hospital staff.
Dr Stephen Morgan, Medical Director, said: "As doctors our natural inclination is to treat and cure, so it is difficult to watch a patient die waiting for an organ transplant. There are many ways in which donated organs and tissue can be used to improve the lives of the thousands of people on the waiting list."
Organ Donation - The Facts:
What organs and tissues can be donated?
Lungs Heart valves
• One organ donor can save or transform up to nine lives and many more can be helped through the donation of tissues.
• In 2010, more than 6,900 organ and cornea transplants were carried out in the UK, thanks to the generosity of the deceased and living donors – the highest on record.
• The oldest organ donor ever recorded in the UK was 84.
• Both old and young patients benefit from cornea transplants. The youngest person to receive a cornea transplant was just a few days old and the oldest was 104.
• The number of people needing a transplant is expected to rise steeply over the next decade due to an ageing population, an increase in kidney failure and scientific advances resulting in more people being suitable for a transplant. We live longer and the possibility of receiving an organ is higher than being a donor.
• There are currently over 7,500 people in the UK on the active waiting list for an organ transplant. This figure changes constantly as people join and leave the transplant list. Further people are on the suspended list because they are too ill or unable to receive a transplant at present. This brings the current total needing an organ transplant in the UK to more than 10,500 people.
• Of these, over 1,000 each year- on average three a day - die before an organ becomes available.
• A kidney transplant is more likely to be successful if the donor and recipient are from the same ethnic group.
• People from the South Asian/Black community living in the UK are three times more likely to need an organ transplant such as a kidney. This is due to increased susceptibility to diabetes and high blood pressure as well as diet and lifestyle factors.
• Due to the shortage of donors a South Asian/Black patient might have to wait twice as long as a white person for a kidney transplant
Myth: Doctors won't work as hard to save my life, if I'm on the register.
Fact: Your doctor's primary focus is to save your life. The doctor in charge of your care has nothing to do with transplantation. Your doctor will not talk to the transplant services until they have made the decision that treatment is no longer in your best interests. It is the transplant services team that check the organ donor register.
Myth: I'm not in the greatest health, and my eyesight is poor. Nobody would want my organs/tissues.
Fact: Very few medical conditions automatically disqualify you from donating organs. Only medical professionals at the time of your death can determine whether your organs are suitable for transplantation.
Myth: Organ donation is against my religion.
Fact: Organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most religions. This includes: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. If you're unsure of or uncomfortable with your faith's position on donation, talk to one of your faith leaders.
Organ Donor Register
• The NHS Organ Donor Register records the details of people who have registered their wishes to donate organs and/or tissue for transplantation after their death. This information is checked by authorised medical staff when someone is dying to establish whether they want to donate.
• Anyone can register. Age isn't a barrier to being an organ or tissue donor and neither are most medical conditions. People in their 70s and 80s have become organ donors and saved many lives.
• Currently only 29 percent of the UK population are on the register, despite 90 per cent of people saying they support organ donation. To add your name to the NHS Organ Donor Register, please ring 0300 123 23 23 or visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk
• 96% (or about 19 out of 20) of families agree to organ donation when a relative is registered.
Diane Sarkar, Director of Nursing, said: "The organ donation register makes it easier for patients to make their wishes known and for nurses and doctors to broach the subject with loved ones. Our A&E and intensive care nurses do everything possible to support the families of those donating their organs, before, during and after the procedure. We respect it is a difficult time for families, who have so much to process in such a short time, but we will do everything to make it as easy as possible."
The transplant waiting list
The average person in the UK spends an hour waiting every day - whether it's in traffic, on public transport or in a queue. But for those waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, for which there is often no alternative, the wait is on average up to three years.
Staff at Basildon University Hospital have given and received organs. Here are their stories:
Rachel Crisp, Resus Officer, gave her right kidney to her husband in December 2010. She didn't think twice about donating when her husband suffered renal failure caused by a genetic condition called polycystic kidney disease. She said: "By the time the operation came round my husband Graham was functioning on just seven per cent of his kidneys. As we're different blood types, Graham had to undergo daily eight-hour rounds of dialysis for six-weeks before the op to desensitise his body to my blood type, so he wouldn't reject the kidney. Before he couldn't play with our son and he wanted to sleep all day. The things we take for granted, he just couldn't do. Now he is like a different man. Just six weeks later I was back in the gym. Being an organ donor doesn't affect your life. Signing the register is something everyone should do."
Shoenagh Mackay, Learning Disabilities Nurse Advisor, received a kidney from her mum in 1998 after she lost all kidney function aged 22, thanks to a progressive disease called membranous glomerulonephritis. She said: "I was on dialysis twice a week for four hours a day - it was tough and I wasn't coping very well with it physically. I was on the transplant list but my mum offered to be a live donor and all her tests came back a perfect match. After the op I was home within ten days and back at work in six weeks. I'll always be eternally grateful because mum gave me my life back. She gave me life twice. It's only now as a mother myself, that I truly understand why she did it. The whole experience touched my family, who all carry donor cards. To give someone their life back – you can't put a price on that."
For more information about organ donation visit these websites:
Organ donor register:
Tel – 0300 123 2323
Text SAVE 84118
NHS Choices – organ donation and Map of Medicine
Human Tissue Authority - http://www.hta.gov.uk/
Department of Health – Organs for transplants: a report from the Organ Donation Task force 2008
Donor family network – www.donorfamilynetwork.co.uk
Facebook – NHS Organ Donation Campaign
Twitter - @NHSBT