What I've Learned About Organ Donation

When I decided to become an organ donor I had the lady at the DMV check that box on my DL and poof I was an organ donor. I assumed (that word always gets me in trouble) that if I died my organs would be harvested, all the information about them would be entered in a computer somewhere, a match would be found and they would be sent to the people who needed them. And hopefully those people would be able to continue living their lives.

That happens sometimes but there's a lot more to it than I ever dreamed.

The Island King was medical surrogate for his Uncle Kris and when he died we didn't really think about the organ donation part.

Until about 3 hours after Kris died and the Island King got a call from the tissue donation people. Kris wasn't a candidate for donating any of his major organs but there is more to it than that.

I was sitting there with him and listened to his side of the conversation with my mouth hanging open.

He said the lady was very nice and sympathetic but the deal is that after you die the hospital takes whatever organs can be used and then these tissue people take over from there.

And the tissue people are the skin, eyes and research people.

The first question the lady asked was if he wanted to donate his skin for burn patients. This prompted the Island King to ask exactly what that means. Do they take all of your skin? How many layers of skin? What will they do with it?

They take all 3 layers of the skin from the back, buttocks and thighs, she tells him, and they use it for skin grafts for burn patients.

Would Kris want that? We had no idea.

The next questions were about his eyes. She listed off each part of the eye and you have to agree to donate each part individually. Odd but true. She tells him that when you donate all of both eyes you are usually giving sight to 2 other people.

We agreed that Kris meant his eyes when he checked the organ donation box on his DL.
I usually think of the corneas when I think of the organs that can used and the Island King did too.

Next came bones. What bones? What will you do with those bones?
Some of the spinal vertebrae can be used to help people with spinal cord injuries and then other bones are used for anatomy classes.

You mean like hanging in the corner of a classroom? That's something I certainly never thought about.

Then there were questions about the liver. The Island King answered a few and then said "Wait, what do you mean for separate commercial use? Slices? Sold where?"

I absolutely couldn't wait for him to finish the call and explain that one to me.

He learned that the organs are used for study and research so they slice the organs up and sell slices to labs, research groups and schools. She told him that she had to use the word commercial because these places are actually buying them versus a live organ donation which is not "sold" but donated.

And if he donated these "commercial use" organs, he had to agree to sign a release that stated that if the cure for cancer or something is found because of the donation we are not eligible for any kind of monetary compensation.

They talked about the brain - same deal - slices.

The last thing they talked about was the heart. They sell those whole. You know those hearts in the jars in med schools - like that.

About then Island King kind of snapped. His uncle had just died, it was noon and he'd been up at the hospital since 11 the night before, and he never in a million years expected to be having this conversation.

He yelled "So what's going to be left? Is the funeral home going to be carting him out of there in a Wal-Mart bag? Will there be enough left to fill up a 5 gallon bucket?"

I swear I almost fell off the couch! Five days later and I still can't believe he said that LOL

After he got off the phone he told me that the woman was extremely nice and that she seemed kind of used to people freaking out on her. Which I guess is to be expected.

The hardest part about this phone call was the fact that we had no idea if Kris would want to be used for research. Not a clue.

The whole conversation was really an eye opening experience. We have living wills and we've spelled out very carefully what we want as far as life support, permanent care and that sort of thing but we've never talked about organ donation.

And we really didn't know how in-depth that conversation needed to be.

So one of the things I've learned this week is to be specific and write down what you want to happen when you die. Do you want to donate your whole body for research? Just your organs? No research at all? Maybe this organ but not that one? Don't want to hang in an anatomy class? Would love to hang there?

Write it down! Whoever handles the phone call from the tissue people will really appreciate it.