5 Myths About Organ Donation

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Rob Kochik is the executive director of Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network.
Rob Kochik is the executive director of Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network.

We have heard so many myths about organ donation. Anything from “my religion prohibits organ donation” to “if I am an organ donor the paramedics won’t save me.” Opinion polls show that most New Yorkers support the concept of organ donation as a way to save the lives of patients who require life-saving transplant surgery. Yet New York state ranks second to last among the 52 donor registries across the country in the number of adults who have formally registered with the state’s Donate Life Registry.

Currently, more than 120,000 men, women and children are awaiting organ transplants in the United States, according to Gift of Hope, a nonprofit organization that coordinates organ and tissue donations. One of the reasons for this is the misconceptions that individuals may have about donation. Rob Kochik, executive director of Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, dispels five of those myths that may be holding people back.

1. Signing my driver’s license is enough.

Fact: It is best to register with the New York State Donate Life Registry, either through an online portal such as FLDRN’s www.donorrecovery.org or when you visit the Department of Motor Vehicles. Formally registering rather than only signing your license will ensure your decisions with regards to organ and tissue donation are legally documented.

“Along with registering, you should discuss your wishes with family so they know where you stand on organ donation,” said Kochik. “As uncomfortable as it may seem, talking about your end-of-life decisions is a responsible thing to do, and it alleviates your family having to make that choice on your behalf.”

Not sure when the best time might be to have this conversation? Consider the holidays in November and December, when we are often with close family members we don’t see often.

Last year, more than 8,000 donors made possible about 24,000 organ transplants in the United States, according to Gift of Hope.

“Our advice to anyone considering enrolling in the registry: Live life to the fullest now — go on great adventures, enjoy time with your family and friends, build an amazing life that takes you well into retirement — then pass life on to others,” Kochik says.

2. Money or fame improve your chances of getting a donated organ.

Fact: The system to match organs with recipients is based on many factors, but not money or fame. Among the things that are considered are matching blood type and body size between the donor and the recipient, and medical urgency of the patient in need. Organs are placed with waiting recipients based on objective information, including location, blood type, body size and tissue type matching through a national computer network operated by the United Network for Organ Sharing. Tissue is distributed based on patient need, availability and medical criteria.

“Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, despite his political position, waited 20 months to receive a new heart. The national allocation system is designed and regulated to be fair to all patients, regardless of money or status,” said Kochik.

3. You’ll get less care in an ER if they know you’re an organ donor.

Fact: Saving patients’ lives is job No. 1 for emergency department staff. There is no emergency department provider who would dispute that. In fact, when you come in for care, doctors and nurses don’t have any idea whether you’ve signed up to be an organ donor.

“No one is checking your wallet or contacting the state registry — their priority is to do everything in their power to save the patient in front of them,” said Kochik.

4. Donation costs money.

Fact: All costs associated with donation are covered by the local organ procurement agency, in this case that would be covered the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network. There are never any costs to the organ donor, donor family or their estate.

Tissue is needed to replace bone, tendons and ligaments lost to trauma, cancer and other diseases. Corneas are needed to restore sight. Skin grafts help burn patients heal and often mean the difference between life and death. Heart valves repair cardiac defects and damages.

5. Your religion prohibits organ donation.

Fact: All major religions support organ donation and consider it an act of charity. Transplants provide hope to thousands of people with organ failure. In addition, transplanted tissue saves lives and offers hundreds of thousands of people active and renewed lives. But transplants require the commitment of organ and tissue donors, and the need for donors is much greater than the number of people who actually donate.

Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network is the organ procurement organization affiliated with the University of Rochester Medical Center that coordinates organ donation with 36 hospitals throughout the Finger Lakes region, Central and Northern New York, and supports transplant programs at URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital and SUNY Upstate Medical Center. For more information, visit www.donorrecovery.org.