Donating in hard times

I never knew my Uncle Harry’s son. In 1981, the year before my
birth if you really must know, the young mechanic’s head was
crushed when the hydraulic lift holding up a truck he’d been
working on failed. His father was, understandably, devastated.
I never knew my Uncle Harry’s son. In 1981, the year before my birth if you really must know, the young mechanic’s head was crushed when the hydraulic lift holding up a truck he’d been working on failed. His father was, understandably, devastated.

Uncle Harry – who was really no uncle of mine at all, but a close family friend – was told his son had been rendered braindead, though the young man’s heart was still beating. Would it be possible, the doctor wondered, for them to donate his organs?

Harry was stuck on the East Coast, thousands of miles from his son’s bedside. He was forced to make one of the most gut-wrenching decisions of his life by phone.

His son’s heart, lungs, liver and other vital organs went to recipients whose lives were forever altered by the decision.

Monday, April 4, California opened its first online donor registry and, provided nothing goes amiss between press time and delivery, I should be a member by now.

In terms of parting gifts, I can’t think of many more that would be more appreciated, especially in such a difficult time. In death, a few individuals in our society have the chance to benefit so many more.

The vital organs that can be donated from a single person can save up to eight people from death, and better the lives of as many as 50 others, according to statistics provided by the Donate Life California Registry.

And there are plenty of people waiting for that miracle. In California alone, 18,000 residents are waiting for lifesaving organs, according to state figures. Nationally, there are 90,000 people awaiting vital transplants, 17 of whom die each day.

Signing up for the registry, a central, confidential data system, will allow residents and those who work in the state to ensure their wishes are carried out should brain death occur.

Rather than relying on their family to decide the issue, it will give them the final say when they can no longer speak for themselves.

“Contrary to popular belief, the pink ‘donor dot’ obtained with driver’s license renewals has never been recorded in any central registry that medical professionals could access in time of need,” said Tracy Bryan, president of Donate Life California, the nonprofit organization that administers the organ and tissue registry in a statement released last week.

“With the Donate Life California Registry, that will change. For the first time, Californians will have a resource that takes the guesswork out of the process – individuals now have an effective tool to ensure their commitments to save lives are carried out. And it will spare family members from having to make decisions about donation during times of intense grief. Californians deserve no less.”

Those who wish to join the registry may do so by accessing the Web site www.DonateLifeCalifornia.org or its Spanish-language version, www.DonaVidaCalifornia.org.

Personal donation information will be stored in a secure database free of charge and will be accessible only as a “read-only” file to authorized organ and tissue recovery staffs.

The site also offers registrants the chance to e-mail a notification of the decision to their friends and family.

The legislation that created the registry was originally adopted in 2001 under the steerage of bill author Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco/San Mateo.

California is the 36th state to adopt an organ and tissue registry, and lawmakers hope it will spur organ donation in the state.

That’s not exactly a pleasant prospect for the living, but if it were your time to go, what kind of legacy would you want to leave?

I vote for one of hope.

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