Who Says Donate Life Month Is Over? It Needn’t Be!

Now that April is over, so is Donate Life Month. No more special themed events, signs, and PSAs. But the need for organ donors is hardly over: about 114,000 people are still spending years on national waiting lists for a lifesaving organ. Even though it’s at an all-time high, organ donation still falls way behind the need. About 6,500 people on those lists die each year simply because they didn’t get the organ they needed in time. About 16 people die each day because they didn’t get a kidney in time. Sixteen people.

What can we do about it?
First step, of course, is to sign up to be an organ donor after we die. If you’re not already registered, no need to wait for your driver’s license renewal. Just go to registerme.org or organdonor.gov. You can even do it on your iPhone’s health app.

Second step is to tell your family you did. People unfortunately often neglect to make their wishes known to family members, who must confirm the decision and, if there is any ambiguity, at a time of grief, can sometimes overrule the registration.

Third step is to spread the word. Donate Life Month or not, tell everyone you know about the need. I’m always surprised at how little the general public is aware of the crisis.

Fourth step is obviously the hardest, but it’s on the rise and holds the key to shortening the wait for thousands of patients: consider becoming a living donor. A healthy person can donate a kidney (by far the most common living donation), as I did, or a part of their lung, liver, intestines, blood, or bone marrow. I’m not suggesting such a decision be made lightly. Just take a small step and educate yourself on the subject–check out the Resources on this site–and see where it goes.

I just bet you’ll find a number of surprises, so then share what you learn with everyone you can. Maybe you’ll prompt someone else to donate.

Donate Life Month Quiz: 5 True or False about Dialysis

True or false?

1-People with kidney failure have dialysis every few weeks.

False—For hemodialysis at a dialysis center, the standard is 3 times a week; patients who have some form of dialysis at home may do it 4 to 7 times a week.

2-Dialysis sessions usually last 3 to 4 hours at a time.

True—The average session at a dialysis center is 4 hours on the machine. (That’s not counting the weigh-ins and pre- and post-blood pressure readings. ) Again, people who do it at home may vary the amount of time, including an option of doing it overnight while they sleep.

3-Dialysis can approximate about half of kidney function.

False—As advanced as it is, dialysis accomplishes only about 20% of normal kidney function.

4-People on dialysis can skip a few sessions if they’re busy or go on vacation.

False—Skipping a session very occasionally is not usually a problem, but skipping several sessions is extremely dangerous and can be fatal as toxins build up in the blood. Patients who go out of town can try to arrange in advance to have sessions at a dialysis center at their destination.

5-Dialysis is an equally effective alternative to transplant for someone with kidney failure.

False—When possible, a kidney transplant is by far the better option. After one year of treatment, patients on dialysis have a 20-25% mortality rate, with a 5-year survival rate of 35%. People who receive transplants have a 3% mortality rate after 5 years.*

*University of California at San Francisco. The Kidney Project, https://pharm.ucsf.edu/kidney/need/statistics

Donate Life Month Quiz: 5 True or False

Here are a few important “facts” about organ donation. Test yourself—and let me know how you did! (Not to worry–I’ll grade on a curve.)

1-Most of the 113,000+ people on the national waiting lists for an organ from a deceased donor are waiting for a heart.

False. More than 80% of them are waiting for a kidney.

2-In the United States, the wait for a kidney from a deceased donor is a matter of months.

False. In many areas of the country, it’s 5 to 10 years.

3-Every year a few hundred people die because they didn’t receive a lifesaving organ in time.

False. About 6,500 people on the lists die while waiting for a kidney each year.

4-A large percentage of people in the United States can be organ donors when they die.

False. Only about 3 in 1,000 people die in such a way that they can be organ donors: generally, in a hospital following a trauma such as a car accident. That’s just 0.3% (yes, I had to look it up).

5-Most living donors are men.

False. Nearly 2/3 of living donors are women.

So, if you’re not already a registered organ donor, you needn’t wait till you renew your driver’s license. You can do it online right now at registerme.org. (There you’ll also find more facts about donation.) And if you’d ever wondered why the wait for a deceased-donor organ is so long, and why donation advocates hope that more people will consider being live donors, now you know the bottom line. There simply aren’t enough organs available.