Friday, 10 February 2017

Have a Heart, Give a Kidney

by Kendall Field-Pellow

In this article I shall talk about my beliefs and opinions about organ donation, and predominantly my experiences regarding blood donation - with as few statistics as possible.

Organ donation and donation of tissues is a crucial part of modern healthcare. It is a completely voluntary and easy process that results in increasing the quality of life of a person who was suffering from a disease that prevents them from having or producing the healthy cells, tissues or organs themselves. My belief is that knowing I have perfectly healthy organs and tissues, some of which I can live without, I feel is it a moral obligation of my own to donate blood regularly and join the organ donor register, especially since I would readily accept blood or an organ if I was in need myself. It is shocking to know that that majority of the population are able to give blood but less that 5 percent of us actually do.

My decision to be a blood donor and organ donor has always been completely up to me and they have always been causes that I fully support, however, I was influenced to join the blood donor register as soon as I was 17 due to my persuasive friend. Before then, I presumed I was too young; however, anyone can donate as long as they’re between the ages of 17 to 66 (with a few exceptions). My friend and I have donated blood together ever since, and despite being pierced by a needle, I must say that I thoroughly enjoy the experience. I donate blood every 3-4 months and I am in fact due for my next donation at the end of this month; which I am looking forward to. Since donating, I've found out my blood group; O+, which means anyone with Rhesus positive (RhD +) blood can accept my blood, regardless of the presence of A or B antibodies, since O means that there are no antibodies. For general information, O- blood group is called the “universal donor” since there are no A or B antibodies and no presence of the RhD antigen (also called the Rhesus factor), hence it is Rhesus negative. Individuals of the O- blood group are very strongly urged to donate blood since even the rarest blood groups (AB+) can accept this type of blood, including anyone in a life-or-death situation where their blood group is unknown! And for those of you who take a particular interest in biology, the ABO blood group system is an example of a phenomenon called ‘codominance’ in alleles for blood antigen proteins.

 A few days after the session of donating, you receive a text alerting you to which hospital the blood is used at. The first time I donated, my blood was sent to the Queen Alexandra Hospital which is incredibly close to home. The feeling that someone in my community now has a slightly better quality of life because of a small amount of blood I donated is very heart-warming (no pun intended).
The main benefit I have reaped from donating blood is that before I donated, I always felt slightly queasy at the thought of needles and injections, however now I have completely overcome this anxiety! I think this is one of the best examples of a philosophy; by helping others, you also help yourself.

There are multiple types of tissue donation available in today’s medically advanced society. Some of these are more well-known than others:

     Organ donation - where you donate some or all of your organs once deceased.
     Living organ donation - where you donate a non-vital organ which you can live without while you are alive (e.g. One of two lungs, one of two kidneys, the spleen, the appendix, as well as others). This is most common amongst families who have an ill family member.
     Blood donation - where you donate 470 ml (US pint) of blood on a regular basis (minimum of every 3 - 4 months). This process usually takes 5 - 10 minutes.
     Platelet donation - where you donate platelets from your blood on a regular basis (minimum of every 2 weeks). This process usually takes 90 minutes. In this process, blood is taken out through one arm, the platelets are separated and the blood is returned through the other arm - so overall, no blood is lost.
     Cord blood and placenta donations - where you donate placental tissue and/or umbilical cord blood after childbirth, in order to use the stem cells to treat life-threatening diseases.
     Stem cell and/or Bone marrow donation - where you donate stem cells in circulating blood produced from the bone marrow, in order to use the stem cells, again, to treat life-threatening diseases. Once a sample of DNA has been acquired from a blood or saliva sample, if it is a match with a person in need of stem cells, you are given certain drugs to stimulate stem cell production and then your blood is taken out through one arm, the stem cells are separated and the blood is returned through the other arm (similar to platelet donation). A less common method is to remove bone marrow from the hip bone under general anaesthetic; however, this only happens in 10% of donations.

There are lots of myths and stigmas around the subject of organ donation, and blood donation, which influence many people not to join these such registers. Some of which include:

“I think it's a good idea, but I just haven't got round to signing up yet” - A large proportion of people support organ donation but don't find the time to join the register. It is a really quick, simple and easy procedure that takes anywhere between 2 - 5 minutes out of your day. Actually signing up to the register is just as important as telling loved ones your wishes. It's a small action that has a big impact.

“I don't want to talk about it because I don't want to think about death and such matters” - members of my family didn't want to talk about organ donation because it is unpleasant to think about when loved ones pass away. It is really understandable to approach such a subject with reluctance; however, it is an important subject nonetheless. Making your family and loved ones aware of your decision to donate your organs is just as crucial as joining the register, since once you are deceased, your next of kin makes the ultimate decision of what happened next.

“I don't want to donate my organs because it's against my beliefs” - It is perfectly fine to not support organ donation for whatever reason, however if you do support organ donation but feel that you cannot join the register because of religious or family or personal reasons, there is support available to reassure you and support you during and after you make the decision.

“I don't want to donate blood because I have a fear of needles” - the staff and nurses are well trained and experienced and are all so polite and caring, if you take a family member or friend with you for support, it is easy to overcome your fear. Plus, once your donation is finished, you have conquered one of your fears and you've improved a person's health - it's a win-win situation!

“I don't want to donate stem cells because it involved a massive needle” - 90% of stem cell donations take place where the blood is removed and returned to the body, but in the 10% of donations that do involve stem cell removal from bone marrow from the hip, the procedure is relatively painless since you are given anaesthetic and painkillers. Moreover, the benefit is worth the mild discomfort.

“I don't want to donate my organs because I don't want my body to be disfigured if I have an open casket funeral” - surgeons remove organs and reclose the body so that it looks as dignified as it did before the removal.

“I am not a healthy person so my organs and/or blood will not be useful” - the majority of the population is able to give blood. People who cannot give blood include people taking certain medications, people who are suffering from certain ailments and illnesses such as anaemia or HIV or sickle cell or general infections, people who have travelled to certain countries within a certain period of time, people who have had a tattoo within the last _ months, people who are suffering from pregnancy. A healthcare professional will make it very clear which circumstances are acceptable when giving blood. So, it doesn't matter if you smoke or drink alcohol or are vegan.

Since 1st January 2017, France has changed legislation so that they've exchanged the ‘donor register’ for a ‘refusal register’. This means that everyone is automatically presumed to be willing to donate their organs unless any individuals opt out of the register, which is the opposite to how out current ‘opt in’ system works. This means the choice remains completely up to the individual. I respect this system as it will drastically increase the number of organ donors whilst still allowing people to decide for themselves if they wish to donate their organs. Our opt-in system should be sufficient in theory, but in practice, there are always hundreds of people who die waiting on the transplant list every year. I believe that an effective way to decrease this number would be simply to raise awareness about organ donation and challenge people’s preconceptions. If we, the UK, follow in our neighbour’s footsteps, we may even become more comfortable talking about macabre topics such as “life beyond death” and be more open to saving people's lives at the cost of our deceased bodies.

I would strongly urge people to consider donating organs or tissues such as joining the organ donor register and/or the blood donor register, whether it is for any of the reasons I have stated above or for your own personal reasons. It is an amazing thing to do which has little to no impact on your daily life.

Thank you for reading.

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