The Gift of Life
Becoming an Organ and Tissue Donor
We’ve likely all heard an inspiring organ donation story. One person can donate up to eight life-saving organs, as well as tissue and corneas that can drastically improve the lives of another 75 people.
But do you understand how significant each gift truly is?
A donated heart helps people struggling with life-threatening heart failure, including congenital defects and valve dysfunctions. Heart recipients have a five-year survival rate of 75 percent or more, and can enjoy a considerable improvement to their quality of life.
For example, one-year-old Maggie McLaren received a heart transplant after her one working heart ventricle left her so weak she could not even crawl. Maggie’s donated heart gave her a new chance at life and allows her to run and swim. Her parents are grateful for the gift she was given and are determined to help her understand its impact.
Instead of spending several hours in dialysis three or four times a week, a kidney recipient can enjoy a healthier, happier life with a working kidney that lasts an average of 10 to 12 years. Melissa Tuff “hit the ground running” after her kidney transplant, which put an end to nine years of in-center dialysis beginning at the age of 16. It wasn’t until she received her donated kidney that she realized how sick she was and how much difference a healthy kidney made!
A donated liver can save the life of someone with liver failure, which can happen suddenly or over time due to long-term illness or disease. Over 70 percent of transplanted livers last over five years, and half are still functioning after 20 years. Katie Arnson, for example, received her a liver at four months old in 1990 after being diagnosed with biliary atresia. The liver she received brought her back from the brink of death and allowed her to become a college student and to work in the health field. She said she thinks about her donor’s gift every day.
A donated lung (or lungs) can be a life-saving gift to someone with unhealthy or damaged lungs. Damage can be caused by a range of diseases, including cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Ben Hayes was dying of a rare lung disease at just 28 years old when he received his lung transplant. The donated lungs allowed him to travel, hunt, spend time with his family and volunteer for Gift of Life.
A transplanted pancreas may be used to restore normal insulin production and drastically improve the recipient's quality of life. A pancreas transplant is often done simultaneously with a kidney transplant if the patient is at risk for future kidney damage. Over 95 percent of pancreas-kidney transplants in adults are functioning well after one year, and 92.5 percent still work well after three years, on average.
Andrea S benefited from this gift. Her Type 1 diabetes created health problems that forced her to drop out of school and go on disability. After receiving a kidney from her mother and a pancreas from a stranger, Andrea works full time, pursues her love of photography, and encourages others to become organ donors.
Intestinal transplants are used for patients with intestinal failure that cause life-threatening complications. Both children and adults can be affected. Recipients such as Matisse Reid are able to enjoy happier and healthier lives. Before her transplant, Matisse had been fed intravenously for the first 10 years of her life because of a rare medical condition that caused a great deal of pain and would not allow her body to digest food. Matisse is now able to eat and explore her love of cooking!
The most common and successful transplant, cornea transplants can restore vision after other approaches have failed to relieve painful swelling or to correct vision. Gina G, for example, needed a cornea transplant after she developed an ulcerated cornea, which is an open sore causing intense pain. Receiving a donated cornea restored her vision and allowed her to continue her dream of playing basketball.
Tissue donation (including tendons, skin, and bones) restores hope and mobility for tens of thousands of men and women each year. Tissue can be used to repair combat wounds for veterans, save patients with life-threatening burns, and rebuild joints.
Tissue and organ donors are treated with the utmost care and respect, so families can still have open casket funerals if they wish. Their gifts are gratefully accepted by recipients like Nicole Carlton, who was at risk for paralysis after slipping a disc in her neck. A tissue donation stopped her pain and prevented her from becoming paralyzed from the waist down.
Still Have Questions?
We are Here to Put You at Ease
Organ and tissue donation is a gift of life that can help people like Maggie, Ben, and Gina live healthy, happy lives. You can sign up for the Michigan Organ Donor registry here to give others the gift of life!