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How to Become an Organ Donor in California

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How much do you REALLY know about organ and tissue donation? Sure, we all know that if we become one, we get a cute little heart on our driver’s license (which are awesome by the way). But the truth is, that heart is incredibly valuable as it allows you the opportunity to save lives.

The Facts of Organ Donation

So here are the facts: an organ transplant or a tissue transplant is when the healthy organs or tissue of one person is transplanted into someone who needs them. Every day, 22 people die waiting on an organ transplant. Amazingly, one single donor has the ability to save 8 lives with an organ or 75 lives with their tissue. Right now, there are 118,000 people waiting for an organ (82% are waiting for a kidney and 13% are in need of a liver), and tragically, many people do not make it off the waiting list. While 95% of Americans are in support of being a donor, only 54% are actually registered. The good news is, anyone can be an organ donor no matter what your race, age or medical history. But transplant success rates increase when organs are matched with people of the same racial or ethnic background, so it’s imperative that all backgrounds are educated on the matter and decide to become a donor.

The Ways to Become an Organ Donor in California

Here’s how you can take responsibility and sign up:

There are three ways to become an organ donor in the state of California. You can:

  1. Register at the CA DMV when you’re renewing or applying for a driver’s license. Simply check “Yes” on the California Driver License Application when it asks if you want to be an organ or tissue donor. It’s really THAT easy. Your new license will be marked with a pink organ donor sticker and you’ll receive a donor card to keep in your wallet.
  2. Sign up on the Donate Life California Organ Donor Registrywebsite, a state-authorized nonprofit that manages the organ, eye, and tissue donor registry, providing all Californians (you must have a driver’s license or identification card) with the opportunity to donate.
  3. Register on ORGANIZE.org, a national organ donor registry database that is using social media to streamline the registration process. This is a lean non-profit (only 6 out of 52 states are using their system right now) but is capitalizing on our tech-savvy generation to save lives. Hashtag heck yes.

Note that for all options, there are absolutelyno fees involved.

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The Process Behind Organ Donation

Surgeons operate on a patientSo, how does the process actually work?

Time is limited when it come to organ transplants. When a donor passes away, they must be declared brain dead (a state when blood flow to the brain is entirely lost) by two different doctors unrelated to the transplant process. The hospital then refers the patient to a local organ procurement organization (OPO) who evaluate and facilitate the organ donation and transplantation process. If the patient is eligible to donate, the OPO will let the family know and the organs will then be recovered to go to someone on the organ transplant waiting list. Funeral arrangements are completely unaffected by donating- if a family decides they want an open casket, the procedure will not alter this option. We know this is difficult to process, but it’s an important discussion to have when saving lives are involved.

Unfortunately, less than 1% of hospital deaths meet the criteria for organ donation since the patient must be brain dead but tissue donation is much more accessible. After a patient dies, the hospital reports the death to tissue and eye banks. If the tissue donor is eligible and his or her family grants consent, the registry is checked and a medical team will then recover the tissue.

Take note that not all donations have to be from someone who has died. Living donations are also imperative to the waiting list and were developed as a direct result of the shortage of deceased donors. Living donations, however, are not covered by your donor registration and must be discussed directly with a transplant center. Many times, living donations are given by relatives and loved ones to spare their family members a long wait (this is called a direct donation), but it doesn’t have to be. One in four living donors are not biologically related and simply give out of altruistic motives (this is called a non-directed donation). But directed or not, these donations are invaluable to the waiting list, making nearly 6,000 transplants possible in 2015.

What Can Be Donated

In case you’re wondering what exactly is being donated, here’s a list of organs and tissue that help those in need and the time restriction between recovery and transplant.

Organs

  1. Heart (4-6 hours)
  2. Lungs (4-8 hours)
  3. Intestines (6-10 hours)
  4. Liver (12-15 hours)
  5. Pancreas (12-24 hours)
  6. Kidneys (24-48 hours)

Tissue

  1. Cornea
  2. Eye
  3. Skin
  4. Heart valves
  5. Veins
  6. Bone
  7. Connective tissue
  8. Upper body bone

So sign up -- it’s too easy not to and spread the word to others to take responsibility and register.

Krista Doyle