Life After Death

October 2, 2017

Katherine Pioli

A body is a terrible thing to waste; sign up for organ donation today.

We’ve all turned our back for a split second on a child. For parents Alicia and DJ, that split second, one beautiful summer day, turned to tragedy. It was only noon when their 19-month-old son, Brayden, drowned. Brayden was a tissue donor and his heart valves saved the lives of two other infants. How many of us can say that we have saved a life? Brayden, at 19 months, saved two. Brayden’s mother says the decision to donate is not easy, but in the end it can bring a sense of closure and peace. -Anna Zumwalt

In 1954, Ronald Herrick’s twin brother, Richard, came home to his family in Massachusetts to die. Richard had kidney disease and his organs were quickly failing. Transplants had been tried before, in Russia and the United States, without success, but with each failure doctors learned more about the tricky task of severing and reattaching blood vessels and of the importance of matching blood types.

Surgeons at Harvard Medical School, along with scientists, had been working on solving the problems associated with the procedure when they learned of Ronald and his twin brother. Just two days before Christmas, the brothers went into the operating room under the care of Joseph Murray, a young surgeon and Harvard Medical School professor, and came out with a story of the first successful organ transplant in history. Richard Herrick lived with the help of his brother’s kidney for another eight years.

Today it is possible to successfully transplant the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas and intestine, as well as eyes, ears and skin.

And it almost always goes without saying that organ donation is a good thing. It’s an act of giving. It’s an act that saves lives. And the need for organs is on the rise.

When Hannah (20) was only 10 months old, she was diagnosed with a very rare liver disorder. For the first years of her life, as toxins swirled through her little body, she felt itchy to her core. She was distracted in school as she tore through her flesh. It was non-stop agony. At seven years-old, she desperately needed a liver transplant.With mere weeks to live, she waited as her doctors ran back and forth between her hospital room and another’s, a 15-year-old boy. They were unsure if the available organ of the older boy, built like a football player, would fit her little body. Eventually, the smaller part of this boy’s liver did save her life. The boy, who tragically died after an auto accident, gave his life and saved two others. Today Hannah is giving back in her own way, as a teacher’s aid in a classroom for high school students with special needs. Her days are now filled with joy. -Anna Zumwalt

According to statistics from the United Network for Organ Sharing, more than 23,091 organ transplants have been performed so far this year, yet 75,542 people remain on the active waiting list. In 2016, more than 7,000 candidates died while on the wait list. One body can save eight lives and help many others. The number of donated organs has remained about the same over the last few years while the number of those waiting has risen.

For all these reasons, becoming an organ donor can feel like the right thing to do. But as long as the number of people needing a donation exceeds the number of organs available, choosing who gets a second chance at life creates a difficult ethical dilemma that makes this act of good will a little more complicated.

Ethics and organs

It’s worth pondering: Should someone who has received one organ transplant be given a second transplant? Should people whose lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking, obesity) damaged their organs be given a chance at an organ transplant? Should condemned prisoners receive organ transplants? And what if they are serving a life sentence without parole? Should people who don’t have insurance and can’t pay for a transplant be allowed to go on the national waiting list? Should young people be more eligible for a transplant than older people? And, should people with young children be given a transplant over people without children?

Some federal laws, like the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, ensure among other things a national registry of patients requesting organs, but other laws vary state by state.

How to be a donor in Utah

Organ donation in Utah is handled through Yes!Utah, a program run by the non-profit organization Intermountain Donor Services of Utah. Anyone can be a potential organ and tissue donor through Yes!Utah you’re certainly never too old to be on the registry.

If you chose to become a donor, you can specify what organs you would like donated when you register: kidneys, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, lungs, skin, bone and bone marrow, corneas.

When it comes to the ethics of who gets what, Yes!Utah determines who gets priority for organ transplants based on a list generated by the United Network of Organ Sharing which ranks recipients based on severity of illness, length of time on the wait list, donor and recipient bio-compatibility.

Register online and edit your donor profile at 866-YES-UTAH. You can also sign up when you renew your driver license.