Healthy Living

Organ Donation: The Power to Change Lives

Apr. 4, 2014
Ever wonder if doctors’ and nurses’ medical care efforts might be less than heroic when they know a patient has signed an organ donor card? Members of the medical community are emphatic that this is never, ever the case, says Rob Kochik, executive director of UR Medicine’s Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network (FLDRN).
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April is National Donate Life Month and FLDRN created a video to help address this concern. (Click here to watch it.) It features area health care providers passionately sharing their thoughts and experiences with organ donation and transplantation, all while providing the best possible care to their patients.
What’s more, some families say that being able to donate their loved one’s organs is the one silver lining to come out of a nightmarish personal storm.
Organ Donation May Help Families Grieve
There’s no way around it: Funerals are difficult. Yet a final gift can save lives and bring healing to other families. Something positive can come out of the pain. 
There’s a great deal of support for organ donation in the Rochester community. Even so, we often find that some of the same people who are quick to express support at the idea of donation have not actually taken the step to officially register themselves. It’s probably because they haven’t spent much time considering their own potential to leave a legacy of hope.
Organ donation offers one person incredible power to change lives.
There’s evidence that organ donation can help surviving family members make sense of their loss. Following a donation, we remain in contact with the organ donors’ family members and provide continued support for a minimum of two years following their loved one’s gift. A number of these donor family members go a step further and serve on our FLDRN’s Donor Family Advisory Committee, sharing valuable insight for which we’re incredibly grateful. Who best to learn from than previous donors’ family members?
In a recent survey, family members told us they were motivated by the prospect that “something positive could come out of [their] loss,” that “someone else would have a better life,” and that, in a way, “[their] family member lives on.” This idea of paying life forward, and having something beautiful come out of their tragedy, is certainly compelling. It can be something encouraging to cling to in those first difficult days, months, even years.
Why We Hesitate
None of us likes to think about our loved ones dying, much less to consider our own death. Yet, we tend to think giving the gift of life is more about life than death.
Even so, it’s inevitable that each of us will die at some point, so it’s really important that we make this very personal decision and share our wishes with our family members. If we don’t talk about it, or don’t document our wishes, we have either intentionally—or unintentionally—given the responsibility to our family to make the decision on our behalf. Our experience shows family members would rather not be in that position.
We know this firsthand: Family members of loved ones who’ve taken the time to elect to be (or not be) donors repeatedly tell us how relieved they feel for not having to make this potentially exhausting decision. When we make the choice ourselves, and document it, we spare our family members from being burdened with one more emotional decision at a time when they’ll likely be overwhelmed.
We are often asked if donor families and transplant recipients ever meet. Transplant recipients often send thank-you cards and letters to their donor’s family members; it’s one small way to express their appreciation for a very big gift—life. And in the other direction, donor family members often enjoy sharing some more information about their loved one with transplant recipients. It’s a way for them to see that their loved one’s story is being told, and they’re living on. Periodically, when both parties wish to meet in person, FLDRN helps coordinate that.
You’re Never Too Old
Hands down, the most frequent reason people tell us they’ve not signed up to be a donor is because they’ve (wrongly) assumed that they are either too old or they have a certain medical condition that makes them ineligible. The truth is, there are absolutely no age restrictions to become an organ donor—and each donor’s medical condition is carefully evaluated at the time of donation. Everyone is encouraged to enroll in the registry, no matter their age or medical history.
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To learn more about organ donation and transplantation, please visit the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network website. Or call FLDRN at (585) 272-4930.
Rob Kochick
Rob Kochik is executive director of UR Medicine’s Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, the link between patients awaiting life-saving transplants and donors and the families who make the gift of life possible. As a not-for-profit, organ donor program, FLDRN coordinates organ and tissue donations in New York State’s Finger Lakes, Central and Upstate regions, working closely with the region’s hospitals to ensure that the organ donor decisions of area residents, in consultation with their families, are carried out at the time of death.