Categorized | Society

Organ Donation: Clearing up the misconceptions associated with it

Posted on 24 July 2013 by admin

By Badri Murali

Toronto

“..there are 1500 people waiting for a transplant [in Ontario], and every three days, one person dies because they could not find a donor. However, with more education and awareness, these numbers will change..”

Shilpa was at the end of her semester, about to start the final term of her undergraduate years at McMaster University, when she received the diagnosis: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. What this meant was six months of chemotherapy, and then, damaged lungs from the treatment, which eventually put Shilpa Raju in need of an organ transplant.

“You don’t expect this to happen, but it did. After one thing was over, the next thing started and it was a lot to take in,” Raju says.

Raju was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the end of 2006. She started chemotherapy treatment in the beginning of 2007, followed by radiation, and that ended in the summer of the same year. For the next two years, Raju continued to study and work, slowly getting back into the routine of life before her diagnosis. But then by the fall of 2010, her lung tissue had deteriorated badly due to the scarring of the tissue from chemotherapy treatments, leaving her with severely diminished lung function. Constantly out of breath from doing simple tasks like going to the washroom, she required the use of external oxygen for all tasks. It was in November 2011, that Raju was placed on the waitlist for a transplant.

“I was lucky enough to be living in Toronto, because all lung transplants in the province take place at Toronto General Hospital, and if you’re on the wait list, you must be within a two hour drive to the hospital. Also, while you’re on the list, you must go in thrice a week for physiotherapy, checkups and testing, in order to assess and prepare you for what’s ahead. ” Raju explains.

So who coordinates the entire process of organ and tissue donation, as well as do outreach to the public about it? The Trillium Gift of Life Network, a not for profit agency of the Government of Ontario, is the organization who does so. The TGLN promotes, coordinates and supports organ and tissue donation and transplantation across the province. Versha Prakash is the vice president of operations for the Trillium Gift of Life Network. Prakash and the TGLN work hard to educate and encourage Ontarians about organ and tissue donation, and to overcome the barriers they face when speaking to certain communities.

            “We are currently targeting residents of the Greater Toronto Area, because our statistics show that there are higher rates of organ donors in rural communities than in cities, despite the fact that they have a lower population. So for example, in Northern Ontario, roughly 50 per cent of the population has signed up to be a donor, while in the GTA, only 14 per cent are registered to be donors. When working with such a diverse area like the GTA, we have noticed a few things that residents here are more apprehensive about, and for that reason, we have three particular misconceptions people have about this subject,” Prakash explains.

These three misconceptions are:

  1. My faith discourages me from donating any part of my body. Prakash says that the TGLN has spoken with rabbis, priests, imams and pandits, and they all agree that when given the opportunity to save a life, that alone triumphs any religious practice. Yes, each person interprets their faith in their own way, but it is worth it to have this discussion with your spiritual leader.
  2. If I register, the doctors will not work as hard to save my life if the situation arises. Prakash says that the donor database is completely separate from the health records accessible by doctors. Once a person passes away, it is a requirement for the institution to notify the TGLN, and it is only then that the doctors are notified if they are or are not a donor.
  3. I think I am too old to donate. Prakash says that no matter the age, if your organs are healthy enough to save someone else’s life, that is what matters. Also, she emphasizes that just because you register to become a donor, it does not equate with immediately becoming the donor. If death occurs, and it is safe to do a transplant, only then will you become the donor.

Statistics also show the urgent need for donors.

“Right now, there are 1500 people waiting for a transplant [in Ontario], and every three days, one person dies because they could not find a donor. However, with more education and awareness, these numbers will change,” Prakash says.

After almost a year of waiting, it was only in October of 2012 that the transplantation took place for Shilpa Raju. This was after four false calls (false calls is when the doctors think a patient is suited for a transplant, but upon further assessing the lungs and tests, deem the lungs not suitable for the transplant). Now, Raju has recovered and strongly encourages people to become a donor.

“I would not be here if someone (and their family) had not made that selfless decision, and I am incredibly grateful for this gift,” Raju says.

Despite the challenges Raju faced, she has come out of it a stronger person. She persevered through chemotherapy treatment to receive her undergraduate degree in Life Sciences at McMaster University. Soon after her chemotherapy treatment ended in 2007, she went on to receive her master’s in Public Health at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. Now, she remains incredibly thankful to those around who have helped her, and especially the donor who saved her life.

“All of this, it isn’t just about me. It’s something bigger, and I’m just one story,” Raju says

To learn more about how easy it is to become a donor, visit beadonor.ca. Here, there is information on how to register, and resources to get informed about the process.

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