We have all heard of blood donation. Some of us have heard of organ donation. Donating your organs to save another life is a sacrifice beyond any.
When it comes to donating blood, very few of us hesitate. The likely reason for this is because many of us know that we will walk out of the donation center – alive.
However, the situation is completely different when it comes to organ donation. This probably because we know that our organs will be donated when we die.
The thought of death is scary, and sentiments play a big role when it comes to organ donation. These sentiments are not just limited to the patient themselves, but also include those of family members.
Organ donation has come a long way over the last decade. Misconceptions are many and highly prevalent in our society.
But it is not as bad as you think.
Maintaining the organ donor’s dignity is the core to organ donation, and many programs across India including the FORT program by Fortis hospitals
I had the privilege of listening to Dr Vivek Jawali, Chief cardiothoracic surgeon and director of medical services at Fortis hospitals Bannergatta road, Bangalore, speak passionately about organ donation (particularly heart transplantation). He discussed some very valid points, and not only did his talk surprise me; it also inspired me.
Here, I summarise what he said, some of my own thoughts on organ donation and why I request you to sign up to the FORT program.
Organ Donation – The Situation in India
The organ donation statistics in India are shocking. For every 1 million people in our country, there are only 0.26 people willing to donate their organs. In other words, there are 26 people out of 1 crore people who are willing to give their organs to another human being to save their life.
This number is probably lesser than what I have stated, and an article in The Times Of India stated that there are only 0.08 donors per million population in our great nation.
Compared to the UK and the USA, where the donor rate is around 30 per million, our numbers are honestly quite pathetic.
One problem associated with organ donation in India is the legality of it. There are many illegal organ donations going on across our country in less reputed organisations that are driven by profits and not ethics and basic humanity.
That being said, there are many organisations, including Fortis Hospitals that run an ethical organ donation program called the Fortis Organ Retrieval & Transplant (FORT) program.
Over 5 lakh people across India die every year because of the lack of availability of organs. Around 50,000 people die every year from heart failure alone. We see similar statistics with other organ transplants as well.
So why is this statistic so poor? Why is there no one prepared to donate their organs to save another human life?
Why Organ Donation Statistics Are Low In India
The first reason is the lack of knowledge about organ transplantation itself. In fact, surveys have shown that had people received enough information, they would have likely pledged their organs.
Secondly, social stigma and family sentiments play a very important role. Many of us consider the soul of a person to exist within their hearts. Their kindness, love and compassion emanates from their heart. Having to give that heart away to a complete stranger can be quite painful.
Many believe that the process of organ donation is very undignified. To put it bluntly, some believe that when harvesting an organ from a donor, no care or compassion is demonstrated and all the medical team wishes to have is the organ and want nothing to do with the donor.
Fortunately, this is not the case.
Organ donation has grown by leaps and bounds now. The procedures have been refined as have been the guidelines the medical professionals must adhere to.
But it is not just the guidelines that ‘guide’ the organ donation team. They also appreciate the sacrifice the donor is making greatly. They too realise that what the donor is doing is beyond a sacrifice anyone can fathom.
Organ donation to save another human life is noble. It is selfless. It is remarkable.
Another reason that people do not wish to place their name on a donor list is the worry that medical teams will not take care of them when they are alive.
Let me explain.
Let us say that you have been admitted to a hospital for a serious illness. The treating medical team is aware that you are on the organ donor list.
It is natural to worry whether the team will do their best to keep you alive and get you out of hospital.
You can be rest assured that doctors will do the very best to make sure you leave the hospital in better health than when you came in. ‘Organ donation talk’ only comes into play if you do not respond to the very best of treatment measures.
Some people may think they are too old to donate their organs. There does not appear to be an age limit when it comes to donating your organs. “We prefer if our donors are below the age of 60 years, though we would could do an individual assessment at the time to decide”, says Dr Jawali.
The presence of other illnesses does not necessarily mean you are automatically excluded from signing up to the organ donor list. The presence of conditions such as diabetes etc does not mean you are not suitable. Individual assessments will be made to assess this.
Who Can Donate Organs?
Anyone above the age of 18 years can donate their organs. Those below the age of 18 require the parents or legal guardian’s consent before enlisting themselves.
Organ donation is considered when a person is ‘brain dead’. Brain death is a not just a medical term; it is also a legal term.
The definition of brain death is very specific.
In simple terms, brain death means the brain is not working, though all the other vital organs are healthy and working just fine.
But the body cannot work without the mind.
There are very, very specific criteria for a medical team to diagnose brain death. Brain death can occur after a massive stroke, or if a patient has suffered a cardiac arrest from which they have been successfully revived.
When determining brain death, the doctor will look for certain reflexes to confirm it. For example, the skin will be pinched to see if the patient feels pain. The ventilator may be temporarily turned off to see if the rising carbon dioxide levels in the blood stream stimulates the brain to function. A small wisp of cotton will be run across the surface of the open eye to see if the patient blinks. The vocal cords will be stimulated to see if the patient gags. A number of such similar assessments will be done over a 20 – 30 minute period.
Patients who are brain dead can be kept alive for very long if they are maintained on ventilatory support. This is because those who are on mechanical support have a machine to do what their brain is supposed to be doing – keeping their organs working by pumping blood and oxygen into them.
If the mechanical support is withdrawn, brain dead patients do not survive.
How Quickly Should The Organs Be Donated?
There are specific times up to which organs harvested remain viable and healthy enough to be transplanted into another human being.
Below is a table listing the times.
Newer methods are evolving, and the latest technology is available that can keep hearts viable for up to 48 to 72 hours.
Remember, a single person can save multiple lives. Different organs can be used to treat different patients in need.
Also, organs cannot be donated once the heart has stopped and a patient has been declared ‘clinically dead’. This is because the vital blood is not being pumped by the heart to the organs, and organs begin to fail within seconds.
That being said, the cornea, tendons, heart valves and similar cartilage tissues can be used and harvested.
Doctors who operate on patients to harvest their organs are bound by law to follow certain guidelines. These guidelines are laid down by the Transplantation of Human Organs Act and Rules, which is amended from time to time.
The Fortis Organ Retrieval & Transplant FORT Program
The Fortis Organ Retrieval & Transplant program, or FORT is an initiative by Fortis hospitals across India to increase awareness about organ donation and increase the list of organ donors across our country.
Fortis have streamlined the entire process of organ donation following brain death. They have borne in mind the sentiments of patients and their family members, and offer counselling and support for those who need it.
The FORT program maintains an organ pledging facility and registry. It is easy to sign up and for more and more of you to get involved.
Why You Should Sign Up To The FORT program
Fortis prides itself on providing the very best in care for patients, and organ donation is no different. They have an excellent team of surgeons and multidisciplinary members who ensure that organ harvesting is done in a dignified manner.
I hope after reading this that you sign up to the FORT program, and let your legacy live on after you are gone. Saving a human life is incomparable to any achievement or sacrifice you will ever make.
You can help a mother see her first grandchild, a father see his daughter get married.
My wife and I have already pledged our organs. I hope you will join us in playing our part towards serving humanity.