Organ donation is the process of transplanting an organ or part of an organ to another person who needs it. The organs from one donor can save many lives.
Who can donate organs
Organ donors can be dead or alive. A person who is brain dead can donate many organs such as corneas, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and intestines. A person who dies due to cardiac arrest or failure cannot donate organs because the blood supply to these organs is cut off and so the organs die, but tissues like the corneas, heart valves, skin and bone can be donated within 24 hours after death.
Organ donors who are alive can donate one kidney or a part of their liver or intestines to a matching donor – generally a relative or family member. For a person below the age of eighteen years, the consent of a parent or guardian has to be obtained before donating any organ. Adults, eighteen years and above, can fill a donation card pledging to donate their organs after death and inform their near and dear ones about it in case of their death.
In today’s world, organ donors are few due to lack of awareness and apathy on the part of relatives due to superstitions. In the West, awareness about this noble and selfless act is spreading, but in India, organ donation is not talked about openly.
When is a person said to be brain dead:
When the brain suffers an injury for e.g. a haemorrhage or a skull fracture, it swells. As the brain is in an enclosed space, the swelling leads to a build-up of pressure within the skull which consequently causes brain death. When the brain is dead, the heart and lungs can continue to function for some time as the person is put on a ventilator and a machine to pump blood.
Two senior doctors must examine the patient and then come to the conclusion separately that the person is brain dead and cannot be revived. The doctors examine the person’s eyes to check that the pupils are fixed, dilated and unresponsive to light and that the corneal reflex is absent. Motor reflexes as well as the cough and gag reflex should be absent. The apnoea test is done to check that breathing has ceased after the ventilator is disconnected.
Once this happens, the family’s consent can be taken to remove organs from the person. In this regard, medical professionals including doctors and nurses as well as social workers should take the initiative to explain to the family the joy of donating their loved ones organs – perhaps two blind people will be able to see, a person on dialysis, due to a kidney failure will get a new lease of life or a person with a failing liver will be able to walk out of hospital and start life afresh!
In case of medico-legal cases, a clearance from the police is required before proceeding with organ donation.
An Organ Procuring Centre (O.P.C) will help to network with the family members and act fast as the organs must be viable for them to be donated. Donation experts will decide who on the waiting list will receive a particular organ depending on whether they are a match. In most cases, patients have to wait for a long time before a donor organ is available. In third world countries, organs are sometimes sold for money. This practice will automatically come to an end if people voluntarily donate organs.
When a person undergoes a transplantation in which someone else’s organ is put into his body, he must take powerful immunosuppressant drugs to prevent his body from rejecting the organ transplanted. These drugs have to be taken for the rest of his life. Sometimes, transplant rejection occurs in which the body’s immune system rejects the organ.
Benefits of organ donation
- The family can be comforted by the thought that a part of their loved one will live on in someone else and help make the other person’s life better.
- The fact that many lives are saved because of organ donation is amazing. When organs are donated, up to eight lives can be saved. If corneas and other tissues are donated, up to fifty lives can be saved. Let’s all pledge to be a part of this noble and charitable act.
Photograph via sxc.hu
Written by Dr Nisreen Nakhoda, General Physician
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