If you’re active on social media, or have an interest in public health, you may be aware of Orla Tinsley, a Cystic Fibrosis patient who has written extensively about her life with Cystic Fibrosis. Orla is a journalist and activist campaigning for many health issues, including the rights of transgender people to gain gender recognition, as well as gaining essential health care resources for cystic fibrosis patients. This December, a few days before Christmas, Orla underwent surgery for a double lung transplant. Seeing her tweet about it made me well up. I don’t know this woman at all. I know of her, I follow her on Twitter, but we’ve never met nor conversed. But seeing the power of what one person’s actions in life and death, by being an organ donor, can do to affect another affected me more than I thought it could.
Now, I’m a pile of mush at the best of times. Since having Eliott, I can’t deal with any of those sick-children-hospital-reality shows, or any of the Surprise Surprise type ones. But this was different. This was something that we can actually bring into our own lives, every single one of us, the ability to change not just one life but six.
In Ireland, organ donation is currently opt-in. It is not assumed upon the death, or the imminent death status, of any individual that they will donate their organs. It’s a system requiring change, which is being considered by our current government, to move towards an opt-out scheme like that in Austria (and will hopefully be in place here by the end of 2018). In the mean time though, the conversation needs to be had. Even with opt-out schemes, many countries still require the consent of the family members to perform organ donation surgeries, and it is necessary for your wishes to be made clear to those you love for them to be carried out.
In 2017, a record number of organ transplants were performed in Irish hospitals. The Irish Times has today reported that
“Irish hospitals carried out 308 transplants so far this year, 28 more than last year. These were: 190 kidney, 61 liver, five pancreas, 36 lung, and 16 heart transplants.
There was a new high in organ donations, 149, compared with 127 in 2016.”
Those are 308 lives which have been changed by the actions of those who had the conversation, who decided that in death something good could come from their passing. It isn’t just the organ recipients lives who have been changed though. The families around them, the friends who love them, the spouses and children who have nursed them – all of them have noticed changes in the way they live their lives for the better.
So, How Do I Ensure I’m On A Donor List?
You can become an organ donor by carrying a donor card or using the Organ Donor Ecard smartphone app, or having your wishes noted on your driving licence next time you renew. You can also have it noted on apps like the Apple Health App Medical ID.
You should tell your family or next-of-kin that you wish to donate your organs after your death. Your family or next-of-kin can inform a doctor or another healthcare professional in a hospital if they are asked about your wishes regarding organ donation. In all cases, the medical team requests the next-of-kin to donate the organs of a deceased person. In practice, the consent of the next-of-kin is accepted as valid and a refusal by the next-of-kin is not contested.
Having a medical condition does not prevent you from becoming a donor (an individual decision will be made by a healthcare professional at the time of your death). It is important to know that the removal of organs is carried out with the same care and respect as any other operation. Organ donation does not disfigure the body or change the way it looks nor does it cause any delay to funeral arrangements.
Orla Tinsley’s story is just one of so, so many. Her health battles aren’t over yet, but this has been a major lift in the quality of her life. It’s also after raising the profile of organ donation and the importance of having the conversation with your loved ones to ensure they know your wishes to be an organ donor before it’s too late. In august, The Irish Times reported that 650 people were on waiting lists for transplants, so this isn’t a problem to be solved overnight, but if everyone makes their intentions known perhaps we can lessen the weight and change lives.
So, go on, have the chat about being an organ donor. It’s morbid, it’s not pleasant to think of death, but it it of VITAL importance. And, if you’re wanting to make it feel a little less morbid, opt for the hashtag #RecycleYourself.
BadMammy is on Facebook.