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Debunking Transplant Myths

Currently, more than 104,000 people are listed as waiting for organ donation.* There are generally two types of organ donation: live and deceased organ donation. Live organ donation occurs when a patient receives a "donatable" organ from a healthy person, such as a kidney or partial liver. Deceased organ donation occurs when a patient receives an organ from someone who has passed away very recently.

Here are five myths about organ donation:

MYTH: Hospitals "let" people die so they can take their organs.

This is an irrational fear that can keep people from signing up to be a donor. It is also simply not true. Hospitals and medical professionals will do everything in their power to save the life of each patient without risking the life of another. And no one person makes the decision to remove organs from a deceased patient. In fact, organ donation is heavily supervised by the federal government and non-profit organizations. Stringent checks and balances exist when there is a possible donation from a terminal patient. "The brain of the donor must be completely, irreversibly, and legally dead before organ donation can be considered," explains Jeffery Campsen, MD, a transplant surgeon with University of Utah Health.

MYTH: You need to be medically perfect to be an organ donor.

Although there are high medical standards for live organ donation, the donor doesn't need to be considered perfect. Those with substance dependency will naturally be denied. Those who have a serious illness cannot donate. And living donors must be at least 18 years of age. But if you're in relatively good health, there is no maximum age to be a donor. Nor do you need to be extremely fit. For example, an ideal Body Mass Index (BMI) for a male is around 25%, but if you're a little overweight at 30%, you can still donate.

MYTH: An organ transplant is a magic pill for organ failure.

Organ failure is certainly a serious condition, and organ transplant is often the best option. But it is not a cure-all that guarantees instant and long-term health. "In most cases, the recipient is trading one serious condition for another," Dr. Campsen says. Side effects, therapy, doctor visits, and medication associated with transplantation can have a real impact on a transplant recipient's quality of life. The hope is that the transplant will prolong life and improve its quality, but there are long-term effects and maintenance requirements that the patient should be prepared for.

MYTH: Recipient lists are rigged for the rich and celebrities.

Considering current events within higher education, it's understandable to think that this myth could be true in some cases. However, it is completely false. All of the lists for recipients and donors are meticulously regulated by the federal government. The lists are processed by a computer algorithm that considers such characteristics as blood type, severity of condition, the patient's waiting time, and more. But the system never considers wealth, status, or name. If a friend or family member of a patient signs up for direct organ donation, that patient can receive an organ sooner than someone who has waited awhile.

MYTH: You must be compatible with your friend or family member to donate to them.

If you have a loved one who needs a kidney or liver tissue, and you want to donate directly to them, you can. This works best when you are both medically compatible. However, if you're not compatible, you can still help them get the organ they need by donating through a paired exchange program. This is where another direct donor and recipient don't match, but they match you and your recipient respectively. You essentially exchange your recipient for theirs. There are systems in place at hospitals to help compatible donors and recipients find each other.


* managed by Health Resources & Services Administration