April 9, 2001
'Gift of Life' gets high marks from organ donor families
from the National Kidney Foundation of Washington
If someone in your family died tragically tomorrow, would you know how he or she felt about organ donation?
According to a new National Kidney Foundation survey of 500 families who have already been faced with this exact crisis, most people do not have signed donor cards.
Despite the fact that 56 percent of those "donor families" surveyed said they had discussed organ donation prior to the death of their loved one, 65 percent said there was no donor card indicating their loved one's wishes.
"It's like making out a will," says John Davis, National Kidney Foundation CEO. "Everyone procrastinates when it comes to activities that make us face our own mortality. People aren't so comfortable discussing it and they have a hard time taking the action step of signing a card."
Despite what seems like initial resistance to the whole idea, when faced with this real-life situation, 66 percent of those surveyed said they donated the organs because they felt it was the "right thing to do" and 95 percent of families say all members were in agreement about the decision to donate the loved one's organs or tissues.
Following donation, 91 percent of families say that organ donation was a positive experience, in most cases because they "felt good knowing the loved one's death wasn't a waste," and they also "felt good to help someone else."
According to Patty DeRosa, mother of 13-year-old Katie who died in a car crash and then donated six organs, "My daughter had a love of life and it is the beauty of her shared life that gives us all hope and helps my family to continue. We prayed for a miracle but our miracle was that Katie was to be a miracle to others. Katie always told us she wanted to make a difference in the world. No one could have foreseen how she could change so many lives."
While meetings among donor families and the recipients of their loved one's organs are not commonplace, they are occurring more and more, with mostly positive results.
Of those surveyed, 91 percent had communicated by letter with one or more of the recipients of their loved one's organs and 40 percent had had face-to-face meetings. Of those who communicated, 90 percent felt it was a positive experience, citing as primary reasons that it helped them feel they'd "given the gift of life" and it "offered a sense of contentment and comfort."
The DeRosas have communicated by letter and phone with Katie's liver recipient and have met her heart recipient in person, who, says Patty, is "a wonderful man," adding, "I hope and pray that his life will be filled with good health. Looking at him, I know that the love of a person never dies."
The organ donation evidently hits home in a big way. A high 85 percent of survey respondents from donor families have designated themselves as organ donors.
When compared with the 62 percent of the general population who have considered becoming donors and the 50 percent who have either signed a donor card or discussed this decision with family, it is clear that the previous donation has a huge impact on family members' attitudes and behavior.
Says Davis, "Our challenge now is to spread the word of the positive impact organ donation has on families and also to promote communication among family members so that discussions about donation happen prior to tragedy striking. We must encourage people to take the action step of signing their donor cards so that all family members and physicians are fully aware of a person's feelings on the issue."
The National Kidney Foundation is dedicated to preventing kidney and urinary tract diseases, improving the health and well-being of those affected by these diseases and increasing the availability of all organs for transplantation.
For a free organ donor card call the National Kidney Foundation of Oregon and Washington at 1-888-KIDNEY or visit the website for more information about kidney disease: (www.kidneyorwa.org).