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7 Things You Need To Know About Organ Transplants
Human organs from the dead—fun topic, huh? Perhaps not, but if a little knowledge can help save lives, even possibly your own, maybe it's worth 5 minutes of discomfort. (As in, read on.)
Besides, there are plenty of uplifting stories to go around. Mine, for example. I am one of the lucky ones—"living, smiling proof," as we like to say—having gone from the prospect of being strapped to a dialysis chair for 4 hours a pop three times a week for the rest of my life to what is now 25 years of post-transplant success. Grateful doesn't even begin to describe the feeling.
First the bad news:People are dying, many of them unnecessarily.To the tune of 22 per day, with a new patient being added to the transplant list every 10 minutes, 24/7/365. There are 121,670 people waiting for an organ transplant in the United States. Some receive an organ after a long disease progression, which to them feels like a condemned prisoner getting a last-minute reprieve from the governor. Plenty don't. The waiting list could be reduced dramatically if more families would donate. More about that in a moment.
But the process does work.Not perfectly, but there is reason for optimism. During 2015, a record 30,000 transplants were performed in this country. To quote the US Department of Health and Human Services succinctly, "organ donation and transplantation saves lives" and "there are lots of ways you can help." Learn more at HHS's OrganDonor.gov. It's a great site.
Getting an organ? You might also grow a mustache.Fine for the men; for the women, not so much. Cyclosporine is the culprit there, and it's part of my regimen, along with prednisone, which gave me a bit of a paunch. My body shape, while still glorious, has changed considerably.
Transplant patients must take immunosuppressives—also called anti-rejection drugs—which prevent the immune system from attacking the new organ as a foreign body, for life. CellCept, one of the most commonly used medications, can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and bouts of infection. Another is tacrolimus, which can worsen symptoms of diabetes and kidney function, cause constriction of blood vessels, raise blood pressure, and, at high levels, cause tremors. ()
Patients are also more susceptible to infection, heart disease, and cancer. But for potential recipients of a new heart, liver, or kidney, if it's a choice between decades of extended life and the chance that we might have problems down the line, well, where do we sign? (Check out these 5 surprising transplants you didn't know could be done.)
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Yes, there is controversy, but it's best taken with a grain of salt.Well, salt substitute, anyway (remember to watch that blood pressure!). Please consider that for every sensational news story like this one, there are hundreds of success stories. If you're looking for a reason not to be a donor, you're likely to find one, and more will perish because of it.
Let's clear up a few rumors once and for all.
1.Doctors are not allowing your loved ones to die in order to harvest their organs for transplant. There's nothing sinister at work here. The sole objective in the ER is to save the patient's life. Always. Transplant teams are completely separate entities.
2.Recipient candidates are screened for cancer and HIV—not to discriminate, but because of the severe effect that immunosuppressive medication can have on the outcome in those cases.
3.Celebrities and the wealthy do not get special treatment. Organs are distributed primarily based on blood and tissue match, time on the waiting list, health of the potential recipient, and geography. There is possibly some height discrimination going on, though.
You can pay it forward with kidney chains.Called so because it works like a chain reaction, it starts with one altruistic donor, with kidneys being transplanted into matching recipients down the line—as many as 30 in one especially inspiring case, with 60 patients in 11 states and 17 hospitals participating.
Watch this video featuring Jeffrey Veale, MD, of UCLA, which has been on the forefront of chain transplantation procedures.
Even if you don't have a kidney to spare, you can help.
Sure, you can give money, and registering as a donor has never been easier. But the most important thing you can do is chat with your family members about your wishes and about theirs. Without that driver's license with the red dot, hospitals need permission from the family before donation can occur, and the decision can be so much more difficult without that very important discussion having taken place.
They say there are two times when you are to be congratulated entering a hospital.One is when you're having a baby; the other is upon arrival for your transplant operation. Can you imagine the feeling of getting a second chance at life, while keeping a vital part of the life of another, especially one so generous, thriving inside you? I can.
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