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Spring 1998
To Save Two Lives
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To Share a Life ---By Leslie Shea

Part of my job as a transplant coordinator is to meet with families who have just lost a loved one in order to offer the option of organ donation. The typical organ donor has suffered a sudden, catastrophic event, resulting in massive brain damage and “brain death,” a legal definition of death.

Most organ donors have been hospitalized for less than two days, so the suddenness and finality of what has occurred leave family members in a state of shock. But time is a critical factor and the only time for a family to consent to donation is during this most fragile period.

Very often, family members are unaware of the deceased’s wishes. This uncertainty can be so easily remedied. To become a donor, all you need to do is make a decision and share it with your family. When I speak with a family that has never discussed donation before, its members’ pain and anguish may be multiplied. But when speaking with family members who know their loved one’s wishes, it is very different. If the decision is to donate, a sense of satisfaction and hope is present. The family is able to fulfill its loved one’s final wish: to share a life. Families tell me this gives them a feeling of hope -- the knowledge that life goes on, that perhaps some sense can be made of their tragedy.

Written permission from the next of kin is necessary to proceed with any organ donation. The donor card you receive from the DMV, with its “pink dot” -- or any such document signed and carried with you -- is a valuable tool to aid your family and those of us on the health-care team. It helps us determine your wishes in the event donation becomes an option. However, your donor card may not be available at the critical moment when a decision must be made.

So please, have that talk with your family. Don’t put them in the position of making a decision for you when they are suffering. I’ve seen this pain on many faces; I am aware of how difficult the decision is.

Yet many families, in the months and years after consenting to donation, tell us that making this gift got them through a horrible time. We also hear from many families who, having said no to donation, wish they had a second chance to make the decision. The single greatest cause of death in those awaiting organ transplants is the shortage of donor organs. This is a tragedy we can all do something about.

For information about organ donation, call The Regional Organ Procurement Agency’s toll-free number, (800) 933-0440.

Leslie Shea is a Nurse Transplant Practioner at the Regional Organ Procurement Agency at the UCLA Medical Center.

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