April is National Donate Life Month, a month-long dedication to encourage organ donation registrations, and a celebration of those that have saved lives through donating. Last year, more than 36,000 organ transplants were performed throughout the country, with more than 800 happening right here in Maryland.
Unfortunately, while the vast majority of Americans support being a donor, only 58 percent are registered. In Maryland, the number of registered donors drops to 50 percent. This means, on average, 22 people die in the U.S. every day waiting for a lifesaving transplant.
To commemorate this month of awareness, we sat down with Donate Life Maryland's executive director, Jim Ford, to learn more about the importance of organ donors in Maryland and across the nation.
What does Donate Life Month mean to you?
Donate Life Month is special to the entire Donate Life community and me because it reflects and amplifies our core mission to save lives through organ, eye and tissue donation. Donate Life Month is a celebration of life—that’s the big message. Donations save lives, and while this month lets us celebrate life together, it’s also an opportunity to remind everyone that they can give the gift of life. Registering as a donor takes less than a minute, but that generous decision can last a lifetime.
One person can save up to eight lives through organ donation, and, enhance up to 75 lives through cornea donation and tissue donation. Tissues that can be donated are skin, tendons, ligaments, heart valves, veins and bone. In total, one person can impact more than 80 lives.
Donation and transplantation becomes a significant source of comfort and healing to the donor’s family as well. Knowing their loved one’s generosity gave someone else a second chance at life brings healing and comfort to their grieving. It also brings a sense of purpose and pride to know their loved one did so much to save someone.
What is the most common misconception you hear about organ donation?
While most Americans support organ donation, there are still many myths and misconceptions that prevail in our society. One of the most common myths is that if you have a heart on your license, first responders and doctors won’t work as hard to save your life. That’s totally false. The truth is that the primary duty of emergency responders and hospital staff is to save your life. Your donor designation never interferes with your medical care.
Another common misconception people have shared is that organ, eye, and tissue donation is against their religion. We’ve found that most major religions support donation as the ultimate act of generosity and kindness. However, we always suggest talking with your faith leader if you have questions about your religion and donation.
Sometimes, the communities in the greatest need for life-saving transplants can be the most apprehensive about becoming donors due to misinformation. It’s always a challenge and we’re continuously looking for new ways to educate and inform people how simple registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor is, and how much of a life-saving decision it can be.
For those who have questions about donation and/or how to register, we encourage you to contact Donate Life Maryland. We have found that when people hear the truth from someone they trust, regarding whatever their misconception or misinformation about donation might be, they change their view embrace donation as a good thing. In all cases, we want to make sure that people make educated and well-informed decisions based on facts as to whether they want to register as a donor.
Tell us a little more about Donate Life Maryland, the Living Legacy Foundation, and others that you work with.
Donate Life Maryland is a nonprofit dedicated to saving and enhancing lives by increasing the number of registered organ, eye, and tissue donors in Maryland.
We manage the state’s donor registry through a partnership with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and with oversight by the Maryland Department of Health. About 98 percent of registrations come through the MVA, so we are proud and grateful to have such a strong partnership with them.
As the public brand for donation in Maryland, we are also honored to work closely in collaboration with The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland (The LLF) and Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC). As Maryland’s federally designated nonprofit organ procurement organizations, they partner with hospitals throughout Maryland to facilitate the life-saving process of organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation, provide donor family support and also help educate the public about donation. The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 was enacted to make sure this process is carried out in a fair and efficient way.
If someone is unable to donate for any reason, how else can they contribute to this cause?
Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up to be a donor. The transplant team will determine at an individual's time of death whether donation is possible. Even with an illness, you may still be able to donate your organs or tissues.
If someone is unable to be a donor for any reason, they will still be honored as a “donor in spirit.” In these cases, the individual wishing to donate (and their family) is treated with the same support and respect from our organization and affiliates as if they were an actual donor. So that is one other way individuals can contribute.
So, if you want to be a donor, register today at donatelifemaryland.org, or at the MVA when you renew or obtain license, and be sure to share your wishes with your family.
There are more than 113,000 people waiting for lifesaving transplants, including 3,300 in Maryland alone. The most in-need organ is a kidney, with 82 percent of patients waiting for an available match. Learn more about donating and join more than 3 million other Maryland registrants on Donate Life Maryland’s website.