April is National Donate Life Month, which highlights the need for additional organ, eye and tissue donors, encourages anyone not registered as a donor to do so and celebrates those who saved or improved lives through the gift of donation.
Despite a continually improving transplantation system, the need for additional organ and tissue donors remains high. In the U.S., there are more than 107,000 people waiting for a life-saving organ. On average, 17 people die each day waiting for a new organ in our country and someone is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes. In Michigan, there are 2,521 people waiting as of March 1, 2021.
Gift of Life Michigan is the federally designated organ procurement organization that serves the state of Michigan as the intermediary between donors, their families and hospital staff. Based in Ann Arbor and founded 50 years ago, in November 1971, Gift of Life is a 24/7 operation committed to honoring life through donation.
What we do
Gift of Life works with hospitals and transplant centers, donor families and physicians to facilitate donation between deceased donors and the patients who need their life-saving gifts. In 2020, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Gift of Life recorded its third consecutive year with more than 1,000 organs transplanted. In total, 1,047 organs were transplanted from 374 donors last year, which represents an increase of about 10 percent in donors over 2019.
Advocacy and Education
Another focus is expanding the Organ Donor Registry. Although statistically, about 90 percent of Americans support organ donation, only about 60 percent are registered. Gift of Life Michigan reaches out to the community through events, speaking engagements, school curriculums and driver’s education courses – among other venues – to educate the public about the need for registered donors and the good they can do, and also to break down common misconceptions about the process.
Common questions revolve around age, health and religion, and the truth is that none of these factors rule out the possibility of organ and tissue donation. The oldest recorded organ donor was 92 years old and young children can be donors, as well, with parental or guardian permission. Medical conditions like diabetes, cancer, HIV or even Covid-19 do not automatically rule out potential donation, either. All major faith traditions support the idea.
There are, of course, many misconceptions and myths regarding organ and tissue donation. The most common one is that medical professionals will not work as hard to save a patient’s life if they know he or she is a registered donor. This is, unfortunately, a widely held belief, despite efforts to reassure people that health care professionals, first and foremost, are dedicated to treating patients and saving lives.
It is also the most common concern among minority populations, where there may already be a distrust of the medical community. Gift of Life Michigan has dedicated substantial resources to reaching out to these communities through our Let’s Talk multicultural outreach program, in which people of color are encouraged to share their stories to encourage and inspire their friends and family members to join the registry. Minorities are more likely to be impacted by conditions like diabetes, hypertension and obesity which, untreated, can lead to organ failure, yet they are less likely to sign up as donors.
How you can help
A single donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and help heal as many as 75 others through donated tissue, bone or cornea. Signing up is easy and there are several ways to do it:
· Through the Gift of Life Michigan website, www.golm.org
· At a Secretary of State office, or through the SOS website, www.michigan.gov/sos
· By calling Gift of Life at 866.500.5801
It takes less than a minute to sign up. A donated organ can save a life, or greatly enhance someone’s quality of life. Donated corneas can restore sight or improve vision. Donated tissue can bring hope and mobility to people, including combat veterans and patients with life-threating injuries or burns. A decision to donate can have a major impact on the lives of others.
About Gift of Life Michigan
Founded in 1971, Gift of Life Michigan is a federally designated organ procurement organization that serves the state of Michigan as the intermediary between donors, their families and hospital staff. In collaboration with Eversight, Gift of Life provides all services necessary for organ, eye and tissue donation. For more information, or to sign up on the Donor Registry, visit www.golm.org or call 866.500.5801.