By Jonathan Perlin, M.D.
April is National Donate Life Month, when we encourage everyone to consider registering as organ, eye and tissue donors.
Patients today benefit from recent advances in transplant medicine and have options to care that did not exist a decade ago. But without donors, little can be done for thousands of patients whose hope lies in the generosity of others whom they may never meet.
Nearly 124,000 people are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in the United States – more than enough people to fill a large football stadium twice over. Thousands more need tissue or cornea transplants.
Having had the experience of caring for transplant patients, and having also had the experience of asking patients and family members about organ and tissue donations, someone saying yes to giving the gift of life was something I hoped for every day. It was difficult to see patients who had been active and well their entire lives be faced with the devastating effects of a liver or kidney disease. Waiting for an organ donation is more difficult than anyone can imagine.
Many are saving and enhancing lives through donations. In 2014, more than 14,000 donors provided the gift of life to more than 28,000 transplant recipients. Even with the tremendous generosity of these donors and their families, nearly 7,000 people on the waiting list died last year because the demand continues to outpace supply.
That disturbing fact explains why the AHA every year joins Donate Life America and others in supporting National Donate Life Month. I encourage all of you to join the AHA in supporting this nationwide campaign.
National Donate Life Month is sponsored by Donate Life America, an alliance of national organizations – including the AHA – and local coalitions dedicated to educating the public about donations. During National Donate Life Month, we celebrate those who have received or wait for lifesaving transplants, remember those who died waiting for their second chance at life, and thank those who have saved and improved lives through the gift of donation.
National Donate Life Month throughout April features an entire month of local, regional and national activities to help encourage Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and to celebrate those who have saved and improved lives through the gift of donation.
National Donate Life Month also is the perfect time to recognize the Workplace Partnership For Life (WPFL) Hospital Organ Donation Campaign. As partners in the campaign, hundreds of America’s hospitals are committed to working toward the day when the wait list is measured in days and weeks, not months and years. They work with local organ procurement organizations within their communities or participate in statewide efforts led by their state hospital associations to promote donor awareness and enrollment activities.
The AHA is proud to be one of the 10 national partners in this ongoing effort, launched in 2011 by the Health Resources and Services Administration. As a national partner, we are sharing information and encouraging hospitals across the country to join in this important effort to help increase donor registration within their facilities and local communities. Hospitals and health systems have the unique ability to educate patients, visitors, members of the community, and their own staff and caregivers about the importance of signing up to become an organ and tissue donor.
Organ, eye and tissue donation remains a critical health care issue, and every hospital and health system leader should be promoting the cause throughout their organizations, in their local communities and at the national level. You can begin through simple outreach activities of identifying and communicating how people can register as donors in your state, educating your staff and displaying Donate Life and WPFL links and web banners. Many already are doing a great job of it – but we can always do more.
Join the campaign and help save even more lives. Please give hope to those who still wait.
Perlin is the chairman of the AHA, and HCA’s chief medical officer and president of its clinical services group. The AHA offers resources on organ donations.