Speaking to loved ones about your wishes for organ donation after death is one of the most important things you can do to help save lives, say health staff.
Due to the latest medical advances, all major organs including kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, the pancreas and small bowel can now be transplanted.
In some cases, parts of organs such as heart valves or cells from the liver or pancreas can even be transplanted. Islet cells from the pancreas can be used to treat Type 1 diabetes sufferers.
There is only a short window of time available for organs to be removed, although it is still possible for tissue to be taken from a body up to 48 hours after a person has died.
One tissue donor can enhance the lives of many people – helping improve someone’s eyesight or giving an injured person the chance to walk again with reconstructive surgery.
But only a small number of patients will die in circumstances where their organs can be transplanted – fewer than 1%.
Carolyn Reid, specialist nurse for organ donation, speaks to the families of those who have died who are in a position to have their organs donated to find out their wishes.
She said: “If someone has already made a decision, that is something we, in our role, can check before having that family conversation. If the decision is already made, it can help the family to support their decision. It’s crucial they share their decision, equally so, if they don’t want to donate organs.”
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Organ Donation Week was launched on Monday to help encourage people to sign up to the register.
Alex Crichton, from Westhill, joined Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick to help highlight how organ and tissue donation transforms and saves lives. Alex was born with a congenital heart defect, which required open heart surgery to insert a donor valve when he was two weeks old, and then again aged 18 months, after the first heart valve became less effective and needed replacing.
Alex may require future surgeries as he continues to grow, but since the procedure in 2010, he’s required no further cardiac treatment. His mother, Julie Crichton, said: “We have Alex, as well as he can be, always with a smile on his face. He’s happy, challenging, determined and cheeky; he’s just my Alex.
“The people who have made the selfless decision to donate have quite simply allowed Alex to live.”
Brian Keeley, from Old Aberdeen, underwent a heart transplant in November 2013 at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank, after suffering a heart attack. He spent more than 100 days in intensive care and his other organs began to shut down, leaving a heart transplant as the only option.
The 56-year-old artist said: “I had been on the organ donation register since I first gave blood aged 18. Since then I had always carried my card with me. I always assumed that I was more likely to be a donor than a recipient.”
From Autumn 2020, the law will be changing in Scotland, and if people have not confirmed they want to be an organ donor, it could be assumed they’re willing to donate when they die.
Mr FitzPatrick said: “This Organ Donation Week we’re asking people to think about their organ and tissue donation decision, record this on the NHS Organ Donor Register and, importantly, share it. Having that conversation with family is vital, so they can ensure the decision is honoured should something happen.”