In Ohio, recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Human Services list 3,458 people waiting for organ transplants. More than half of those people are in need of kidneys. Over the past 10 years, more than 2,000 Ohioans have died waiting for a transplant.
In an effort to reduce those numbers, representatives of Life Connection of Ohio traveled to Tiffin last week for a meeting with potential volunteers and current volunteers from the area. Leading the meeting were Kelly Valentine, community outreach coordinator, and Tracy Kropp, donor family services coordinator.
Valentine said LCO is one of four organ procurement organizations in Ohio. All four are affiliated with Donate Life Ohio. Based in Maumee, Life Connection is responsible for 24 counties in northwest and west central Ohio. In 2012, LCO coordinated the recovery of organs from 44 donors to provide 147 life-saving organ transplants.
"When a person passes away, and has that potential to be an organ donor, we are the ones who actually have to go in and oversee the process. The hospital contacts us, we go in and we are the ones to evaluate and figure out whether or not organ donation is possible. If it is, we check the registry," Valentine said.
Whenever anyone obtains or renews an Ohio driver's license, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles asks if the person wishes to be an organ and tissue donor. The individual's response is indicated on the back of the license.
A "yes" answer places the person's name on the Ohio Donor Registry. It is a legally binding agreement to donate one's organs and tissues at the time of death.
Make a difference
Those interested in volunteering with Life Connection of Ohio can visit www.donatelifeohio.org, www.lifeconnectionofohio.org or call (800) 262-5443.
Valentine said she always is surprised at the number of people who consent to be organ donors without understanding the legal commitment they have made. Life Connection is making efforts to get more Ohioans to register as donors and urging those already listed to inform family members about their intent.
Checking the "yes" box for organ donation spares loved ones from making a difficult decision at a stressful time and gives the organ procurement organization permission to set the donation process in motion, Valentine said.
"If they were registered, they've pretty much already made the decision for themselves and we already have permission to go forward. If they're not registered, we literally are asking the family at that point," Valentine said.
Next, she invited those at the meeting to fill out a volunteer profile. More volunteers are needed to pass out information and meet with the public at health fairs, schools, workplaces and other locations. Volunteers may be asked to stop at BMV offices to meet with employees and drop off literature about organ donation. LCO also has a mobile education vehicle available to travel around the LCO service area with displays, hands-on activities and stories from those whose lives have been affected by donation.
Three volunteers were present at the Tiffin meeting: Gloria Wolph of Fostoria, Susan Arnett, whose daughter is an organ recipient, and Richard Glanz, a kidney recipient. Although Wolph has no personal connection to organ donation, Valentine said many volunteers are transplant recipients or have family members who are recipients.
Glanz said he had been undergoing dialysis that cost about $120,000 per year. That ended when he received a "perfect match" kidney four years ago in Columbus. The family of the donor has written to him expressing appreciation for a living presence of their loved one and the opportunity to help another person.
Arnett shared her gratitude for the 10-year-old child whose lungs have prolonged her daughter's life.
Kropp explained how she works with families of the organ donors after the transplants have been accomplished. She said brain death is required before a person's organs can be considered for donation.
At that point, the hospital contacts LCO. If conditions are acceptable for organ donation, the organs must be kept viable by artificial means until they can be surgically removed and placed in the recipient's body.
Valentine said living organs can only remain outside of a body 4-6 hours. Transplants need to be done within 36 hours. For some organs, the time frame is even smaller.
The medical history of the donor must be considered when accepting an organ for donation, and the recipient must be informed of risks such as hepatitis or substance abuse. If the recipient's surgeon and the patient accept an organ, a medical team comes to remove it from the donor and transport it to the person receiving it.
The process is complicated but effective, Valentine said. It is designed to get the recovered organs to the closest possible recipients while matching them to the people who need them the most.
The families of the donors do not incur expenses. In most cases, the recipients' insurance plans cover much of the cost.
Valentine also noted donation misconceptions, such as:
There is no age limit for donation, as long as the organs and tissue are healthy enough for transplant.
Doctors will do everything possible to save a person, regardless of one's decision to donate.
Donation does not prevent normal funeral arrangements.
All major religions in the United States allow organ, eye and tissue donation.