A legacy of life

Published 8:30 pm Monday, June 3, 2013

According to the American Transplant Foundation, more than 115,000 people in the United States are on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant. Statistics show that about 18 people die each day while waiting for a transplant, for a total of more than 6,500 each year who might have been saved but were not. Meanwhile, a new name is added to the national transplant waiting list every 12 minutes.

One deceased donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation, and more than 100 lives can be improved through the gift of tissue donation, according to the foundation. Doctors can transplant the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, pancreas and small intestines of deceased donors, and they can use corneas, skin, veins, heart valves, tendons, ligaments and bones in tissue transplants.

But one doesn’t have to wait for death to donate an organ, a fact that saved the life of North Suffolk’s Harry Tillman, whose wife four years ago donated one of her healthy kidneys as a transplant to replace one of the diseased organs in her husband’s body. Tillman had been placed on the waiting list for an O-positive donor and faced the prospect of a life-threatening four-and-a-half-year wait for the right kidney. When they learned of his wife’s compatibility, the couple, who have been married 25 years, jumped at the chance for a solution. Nearly four years later, both husband and wife are now healthy.

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Even if her husband had not been a match, Tracy Tillman would have been able to help. By donating her kidney to someone else who was a suitable match, she could have moved her husband to the top of his waiting list. As the direct donation ultimately succeeded in doing, that selfless act would have saved her husband years of life-altering dialysis.

About 6,000 transplants from living donors are completed every year, according to the Transplant Foundation, and one in four of those donors is not biologically related to the transplant patient. Living donors can donate a kidney or a part of the liver, lung, intestine, blood or bone marrow.

There are many myths associated with organ transplants, and — often driven by fear and ignorance — some people look for every excuse they can concoct to avoid filling out an organ donor card. Whether or not you’re willing to take the bold step of becoming a living donor, choosing to become an organ donor upon your death — and letting your family know about your decision — can help ensure that you leave a legacy of life when your own life is over.

Learn more about being an organ donor at www.organdonor.gov.