April 16, 2014
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Organ Donation: The Gift of Life

The need for donors

The need for donors

There are over 4,000 people in Canada right now who are waiting for a solid-organ transplant. If they receive the organ or organs they need, their lives could be saved or greatly enhanced.

Over the last decade, the number of organ donors in Canada has increased from just over 800 per year to just over 1000 per year (as of 2009). The ability to use living donors (for example partial liver transplants or kidney transplants) has greatly accounted for this increase. But the last decade has also seen an increase in the need for organ donation. For example, the incidence of end-stage renal disease has increased quite a bit, causing an increase in the demand for kidney donation.

A new lung may turn their gasping breaths into effortless ones; a new liver or kidney could cleanse their bodies of waste; a new cornea could bring into focus their blurred vision.

At the same time, if would-be recipients don't undergo an organ transplant, death or protracted illness may be the result.

Almost 300 Canadians die each year while waiting for an organ transplant. Underlying this unfortunate statistic is the fact that Canada has one of the lowest rates of organ donation in the industrialized world. About 14 in every one million people in Canada donate, which pales in comparison with countries such as Portugal, Spain, and the United States, which have donor rates ranging from 20 to 32 per million.

The following table shows the discrepancy between the number of people waiting for an organ and the actual number who underwent a transplant in Canada.

  Transplants Waiting list
2000 1882 3800
2001 1785 3964
2002 1789 3956
2003 1801 3914
2004 1773 4013
2005 1905 4025
2006 2160 4240
2007 2188 4195
2008 2083 4380
2009 2138 3796
2010 2153 4529
2011 2169 4660

The low donor rate has partly led to demand outstripping the supply. But when the supply is there, lives are forever altered. Thanks to advances in medical technology and surgeon training, many forms of transplants are performed with high success rates. For instance:

  • The one-year survival rate for most transplants exceeds 85%.
  • Almost 98% of kidney transplants are a success.
  • 90% of liver transplants are completed properly.
  • 85% of heart transplants are a success.

The main organs and tissues donated after a person dies are kidneys, corneas, heart, liver, lungs, pancreas, bowel, bone, eye tissue, and skin.

There is no age restriction dictating who can and cannot donate their organs. Nothing regarding your final wishes upon your death (i.e., funeral arrangements) changes, and there is no additional charge to you or your family. Your general health and underlying medical history are more important in determining whether or not you could donate your organs. And don't underestimate their usefulness - even if you wear glasses because of poor vision, for instance, you can still donate your corneas.

So why would you want to donate? Donated organs don't just positively impact the life of the person who receives them, they may also bring purpose to the family of the donor. In fact, studies have shown that families who have donated the organs of a deceased relative feel comforted and consoled knowing their loss has served a dignified purpose.

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