A Heartfelt Gift
Heart disease occasionally becomes so severe that medications or conventional surgical procedures cannot correct the problem. Thirty years ago, a failing heart meant certain death. Not today. Surgeons can replace a damaged heart with a healthy one taken from a deceased donor. Heart transplant patients have an 86% chance to live another year, and a 70% chance to live five years. Most heart transplant recipients go on to live active, normal lives.
But being lucky enough to receive a donor heart does not, in itself, ensure a good outcome. The donor and the transplant recipient must be a good match in terms of certain blood and tissue characteristics, medical urgency, and other factors. Unfortunately, it can take months or even years to find a good match, and this, coupled with the shortage of organs, means that most patients never receive the hearts they need.
As of January 2000, more than 4,000 people were waiting for a donor heart, according to the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS). This waiting list far exceeds the number of people who receive transplants annually — 2,345 in 1998 — at the 132 heart transplant centers in the United States.
You and your family members can help by agreeing now to be organ donors. Transplantation saves lives, but only if you take this step. It’s as easy as signing your name and talking with your family. In most states, you are offered an opportunity to sign an organ donor card when you renew your driver’s license. You can also obtain a donor card by calling the Coalition on Donation, or by downloading a printable card at the organ donor site sponsored by the government’s Health Resources and Services Administration.
Remember, signing a card isn’t enough. You should also express your wishes to family members, because legal next of kin will be asked to consent to organ donation, even if you have signed a card. Sharing your decision with your family now will help them carry out your decision later. Knowing that they fulfilled your wish to save other lives can provide your family with great comfort in their time of grief.
The University Hospital has the Tristate’s only heart transplant program. This busy, internationally-recognized program helps people get a second chance at life, and we support organ donation.
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