● By Wendy Sipple
The total number of Americans waiting for an organ transplant is 105,000,
according to the Sacramento-based Golden State Donor Services (GSDS), a non-profit transplant donor network serving the greater Sacramento area. Approximately 21,000 of these individuals are Californians. More staggering than this fact is the reality: One-third will die before a donor is located.
What most of us know about organ donation is limited to a worn sticker on a driver’s license identifying a motorist as an organ or tissue donor, but today, before and after this article is read, approximately 18 people will have died waiting for a lifesaving transplant due to a critical shortage of available organs, as they do every day in this country. More than 1,000 people are currently on the waiting list for organs in the area that Golden State Donor Services serves – Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba Counties.
GSDS has agreements with 30 local hospitals – Mercy Hospital of Folsom, Marshall Medical Center in Placerville, and Sutter Roseville Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente in Roseville among them – and is notified every time a potential donor is identified. “We work every day to inspire universal acceptance of organ and tissue donation to ensure that every person in need receives the ‘gift of life,’” says GSDS Executive Director Helen Nelson.
Potential donors are evaluated based on strict criteria. You must be 18 to legally decide whether to become an organ donor, but cannot be too old if deemed medically suitable. Functioning organs have been successfully transplanted from seniors well into their 70s and 80s. Families who donate the organs of a loved one are not charged (transplant recipients absorb donation costs) and allocations of organs hinge upon the urgency of medical need, blood/tissue type, height and weight. And today, after heavy debate, organ donation is widely recognized as a gift or an act of charity among major religions.
GSDS refutes the myth that organ donors are more susceptible to medical negligence by doctors who will not work as hard to save their lives should accident or illness befall them. To the contrary, organ recovery occurs only after all lifesaving efforts have been exhausted and two physicians have declared the donor legally deceased.
Medically, the positive and miraculous affects of organ donation somewhat overshadow its human component. Take 12-year-old Folsom resident Connor Ellison, who has liver disease and one day may need a liver transplant, which he has been able to avoid thus far with treatment and multiple surgeries. To help raise $100,000 for Organ Donation Awareness, while providing inspiration to others, Ellison will be the youngest person to ever compete in “Race Across America” this summer and is blogging about his journey online at connorsjourney.com.
“Most of the time people don’t mark the little box at the DMV out of fear and ignorance,” says Connor’s mom, Tiffany Ellison. “I bet if people had the opportunity to make an educated choice things would be very different. [Raising awareness for organ donation] is near and dear to our hearts because of Connor. And who knows, maybe all of the time we spend and money we raise will someday save his life.”
Learn more about how to sign up for organ donation at donateLIFECalifornia or Golden State Donor Services at gsds.org.