Ultimate altruism: Living organ donor

Published 10:01 pm Monday, April 8, 2013

It’s one thing to sign a card and say, “Yeah, sure, why shouldn’t I donate my organs after I’m dead? I won’t need them anymore, and I won’t feel the pain that comes with having them taken out.”

It’s another thing entirely to say what Jeff Mitchell, a Norfolk resident who works in Suffolk at the TowneBank Member Service Center in Harbour View, said: “I want to go through a grueling process that takes months and involves multiple physical and mental tests, then have surgery to give one of my kidneys to someone I’ve never even met, so I can be in agonizing physical pain for several weeks.”

I’m not discounting the sacrifice made by many people who, realizing they may die suddenly when they’re still healthy enough for their organs to benefit another, have checked that box on a DMV form or signed up at www.save7lives.org to donate their organs when they die. Nor am I discounting the agonizing decision many families have to make when their minor child dies, or when an adult dies without having indicated his or her decision on the matter.

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But the sacrifice put forth by someone like Mitchell, who gives up lots of time and lost wages and faces weeks of pain and even the threat of rare complications from the surgery, cannot be measured just in the number of organs transplanted.

The impact of organ donation, whether by living or deceased donors, can be measured by the number of graduations and weddings attended, the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren met, the number of holidays celebrated with family, the number of minutes spent laughing and many other statistics not enumerated here.

Mitchell signed up to be an altruistic donor several years back and was eventually matched up with Mary Holland, who lives in Isle of Wight County. They had surgery on April 19, 2011, and both have recovered well.

Kidneys are by far the most commonly needed organ. Of the 117,725 people on the transplant list as of Monday evening, more than 81 percent of them needed a kidney.

Unfortunately, the deceased donor organ supply does not keep up with the demand for any organ. That is why, for those organs that can be taken from a living donor, the generosity and altruism of those willing to be living donors is so important.

Even if you’re not in a position to consider being a living donor, I encourage you to sign up for postmortem donation at www.save7lives.org if you haven’t already signed up at the DMV. Talk with your family about your decision and encourage them to be donors too.

For more information about living donation, visit www.transplantliving.org.