By Moses Kuwema
New York State ranks last in the nation in percent of residents registered as organ donors, according to data from the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network and Donate Life America.
Only 40 percent of New York State residents are registered organ donors vs 58 percent of residents across the rest of the US. What this entails is that every 18 hours, someone in NYS dies waiting for an organ. Nationally, most patients wait one to two years for an organ transplant. In NYS, most patients wait three to five years. Every 10 minutes another person is added to the national transplant waiting list. The list is managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). UNOS uses algorithms to appropriately match candidates with compatible organs.
There are 108,753 people on the national waiting list for organs, 9,010 of those people are from NYS while 7,774 of the people waiting for organs are from the NY metropolitan area. Ali McSherry, a Senior Public Relations Specialist at LiveOnNY, a nonprofit organization committed to helping New York live on through organ and tissue donation and to caring for the families touched by donation, recently shared some information regarding organ donations with Parkchester Times.
McSherry said LiveOnNY, which also serves as the federally designated organ procurement organization (OPO) for the greater New York City area, works with local hospitals and transplant centers to deliver the gift of life. "We care for the families of the organ and tissue donors who selflessly give the gift of life. We educate the community about the power of organ, eye and tissue donation. We advocate on behalf of those who are waiting for a lifesaving transplant," said McSherry.
McSherry said LiveOnNY has managed to save through organ donation, 20,000+ lives, 500,000+ lives improved through tissue donation and six million plus registered organ donors enrolled in New York. She said organ donors can save up to eight lives while one tissue donor can improve the lives of up to 50 people.
"There are two types of consent for deceased donation: first person consent, which is authorization via registration, living will or last will and testament by the individual who wishes to become a donor, and third person consent, which is authorization for donation by a legally authorized party for an individual who is not registered or who has not otherwise legally declared consent," said McSherry. She said in NYS, people can register to become organ donors when they visit the DMV, register to vote, apply for an idNYC card, register for health insurance through the health benefits exchange, or at LiveOnNY.org.
McSherry said those aged 16 and 17 can register their consent to become an organ donor.
"Parents and guardians will be notified at the time of the potential donation and, if they wish, can revoke the option. Once the registered minor turns 18 the parent and guardian option to revoke consent is no longer available," said McSherry.
McSherry said there was no age limit for donation and that the oldest donor on record was 96.
Regarding medical conditions, McSherry said doctors will make a determination regarding the viability of organs at the time of death.
There are two types of donation: living donation and deceased donation. Living donation provides an opportunity for an individual to save a life while still living. Deceased donation occurs after the prospective donor is declared deceased by a physician. This fact sheet provides information on deceased donation, however living donation is also an option for those who wish to save lives through organ donation. Living donors may donate a kidney, a third of the liver, and in some rare cases, a portion of the pancreas or intestine and a lung," she said. McSherry said organ donation only occurs after the death of a patient is declared by a physician who, legally, must not be affiliated with donation. "Organ donation does not disfigure the body or delay funeral arrangements. Open-casket viewings are possible. Families of donors are not responsible for medical costs related to donation," said McSherry. McSherry said generally, all major religions support organ donation as a final act of compassion and generosity.
For instance, Judaism believes that if it is possible to donate an organ to save a life, it is obligatory to do so. Similarly, Catholicism views organ donation as an act of charity, fraternal love and self-sacrifice; while, the Islamic faith believes in the principle of saving human lives and permits donation as a means of achieving that noble end. Prospective donors may wish to continue the conversation regarding organ donation with their respective religious leaders.
In an interview with Parkchester Times, Patricia Tomasulo, an organ recipient and now an organ transplant educator, said it was very important for people to be organ donors to save people's lives.
"People should not be afraid to donate because they're not going to take all organs from you. It is very important for them to understand that it is a legal issue. Nothing underhand is going to be done when you sign up as an organ donor. Nobody is gonna take anything unless you want it. It is a lifesaving gift. I encourage people to be organ donors because it saved my life not once but twice. It is very important," said Tomasulo. Tomasulo said the first time she needed an organ, she waited for six years.
"The wait list depends on how ill you are. When you become very ill, they move you off the list. The first time I was on the list for six years and the second time I was on the list for three days. It was very quick. The first time in 2005, I got a liver and in 2015 I got a liver and a kidney. The first one was in Westchester medical center and the second one was at Mount Sinai in Manhattan." she said. "But I have to tell you, the organs neither of the times did they come from New York because we have such a great need here. New Yorkers are still skeptical. Sometimes they are scared and sometimes they use their religious beliefs to say they can't donate organs but it is not true because every religion including the Moslem religion says that if you can save someone's life, it is permitted," said Tomasulo, a Bronxite. Tomasulo said more people need to be educated on organ donation. "Before COVID-19, I was educating people, I was at the DMV once a month. We had a table there. I travelled many places and I have to say that in the Bronx, we need more. I work with LiveOnNY in Manhattan and I also have a support group in Westchester," concluded Tomasulo.