April 13, 2001

Need for organ donors is critical

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Dr. J. Donald M. Gass, professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

Each month, 1,000 people are added to the national organ transplant waiting list, which tops more than 75,000. Nearly half of the patients die waiting for a life-saving transplant.

Although 89 percent of the U.S. population favors donation, only 1 in 4 consent – leaving the rate of donation around 5,000 a year, far below the demand.

The Transplant Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center wants to help increase interest in organ and tissue donation. On Wednesday, April 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., the center will have two informational booths located in the Medical Center North lobby and in the Learning Center in conjunction with the monthly blood drive.

Each booth will be staffed by transplant recipients, who will answer questions and offer educational materials about organ donation.

While the national statistics are staggering, local numbers are no better. Currently, nearly 1,500 Tennesseans are waiting for organs. In 2000, Tennessee had 240 organ donors and 99 Tennesseans died waiting.

When a body is donated for transplant more than 100 people can benefit. Not only are organs used, but bones and tissues are also valuable life-enhancing transplants. More than 600,000 people benefit each year from tissue transplants, while more than 45,000 have better vision each year because of corneal transplants.

Donated tissue is used in a variety of ways:

Heart valves allow the replacement of a damaged aortic or pulmonary valve.

Donated corneas allow the restoration of vision or prevention of blindness.

Bone saves an arm or leg from amputation and repairs other skeletal defects.

Connective tissue, such as tendons and ligaments, allow a knee, shoulder or Achilles tendon to be repaired, returning mobility.

Skin is the most life-saving transplant and is primarily used to treat burn victims. It saves more lives every year than all organ and tissue transplants combined. The donated skin is as thin as a sunburn peel when removed.