Four things you need to know about organ donation

Did you know that one person dies every three days waiting for an organ transplant? At any time, there are around 1600 people in Ontario waiting for a transplant.

Have you registered to be an organ donor? Visit beadonor.ca/sunnybrook to sign up.

April is Be A Donor Month. To raise awareness about the importance of organ donation, we chatted with Emily Evans, Organ and Tissue Donation Coordinator at Sunnybrook. Here are four things you should know about organ donation:

1. There is a time frame for donation

Once a patient’s breathing tube is removed, the medical team must wait for their heart to stop.

“The guidelines vary from person to person, but if the heart doesn’t stop within a pre-determined amount of time, the team won’t be able to use certain organs,” says Evans.

For the liver, there is a 30-minute window; this extends to two hours for kidneys and two or three hours for lungs.

Organ donors and recipients are matched based on a variety of factors, including blood type, size and weight. Potential recipients can be from anywhere in Canada, and need to be brought into the hospital for testing before a transplant can proceed.

“We aim to finish the testing and move ahead with the transplant within 24-36 hours,” says Evans.

2. Directed donation is possible

Evans says that people sometimes ask whether they can donate their loved one’s organs to a specific person – perhaps they know of another family member or someone in their community who is waiting for a transplant.

“Directed donation is possible. However, the transplant recipient can’t be fast-tracked – they have to already be on the transplant list,” says Evans.

3. Age isn’t a factor

You’re never too old to donate – the oldest donor, at 92-years-old, donated a liver.

“Babies over 36 weeks gestation are also eligible to be donors,” says Evans.

4. Speak to your family about your wishes

Even if you’ve signed your donor card, your family can override that decision.

“Make sure you talk about your wishes with your family, and designate substitute decision maker (SDM) who is aware that you want to be an organ donor,” says Evans.

While 80% of all Ontarians are in favour of donation, less than 25% of people actually sign their registered consent. Be sure to fill out your donor card correctly so that your wishes are known.

“A potential donor may have checked off a box on their donor card, indicating they wanted to only donate their eyes, when in fact they made a mistake and actually wanted to donate everything except their eyes,” says Evans.

Have you registered to be an organ donor? Visit beadonor.ca/sunnybrook to sign up.

About the author

Sybil Millar

Sybil Millar

Sybil Millar is the Communications Advisor for Infection Prevention and Control, Infectious Diseases, the Ross Tilley Burn Centre and the Critical Care program at Sunnybrook.

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