One signature to save a life

I don’t know why I haven’t come up with an idea for this blog post earlier, given how important this topic is to me. But it took Jill Mansell’s Three Amazing Things About You (which I wholeheartedly recommend, as it is a beautiful book) to make me realise how important it is to talk about it.

This topic is organ donation.

I know, none of us want to think about facing fate so terrible it would make us organ donors. I don’t either, and I try not to. Most of us will never be in this position – we will die at an old age, taking our old organs with us to the grave. Neither will most of us be in the position to need a transplant.

But there are thousands of people around the world  (in 2014, there were 63,000 people needing a transplant in the EU alone) who will not carry on living if their malfunctioning organs aren’t replaced with better models. And to them, I owe this blog post.

organ donation
Photo source:

I don’t have any personal experience of organ donation. No one in my family ever needed a transplant, no one ever became an organ donor. So it’s not, like most people’s interest in most causes, caused by any personal trauma.

But you know how most people have their first drink to celebrate turning 18? Well, my celebration was signing an organ donor declaration. It was something I had been thinking about for a long time before turning 18, and it was very important to me that once I become an adult, my decision on the fate of my organs becomes as official as possible (Poland, unlike other countries, doesn’t have an official donor register, so that declaration I signed is for information only).

If you asked me where my interest in the issue came from, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. If I had to guess, I’d say Grey’s Anatomy, and the number of times I’ve seen organ transplants on this show. It made me understand that there is currently no replacement for organs from a human donor. And that I genuinely have no use for my liver when I’m six feet under.

So, yes, if I die young, and I’m a suitable donor, I want to be sliced open, I want my organs to save lives. In a way, I think, it’d mean I’d carry on living.

I don’t know many people who have signed donor declarations. Personally, I don’t understand it. It’s like waving your perfectly good, used shoes you no longer have use for in front of someone walking the street shoeless and saying “Nah, you’re not getting those, they’re mine.”. Then throwing them in the bin. That’s kinda stupid, isn’t it?

Am I trying to emotionally blackmail you into deciding the future of your kidneys? Maybe a little bit.

I heard voices that if you have a donor card in your wallet, the doctors won’t try as hard to save you. To me, this sounds like the biggest pile of horseshit ever. Maybe I’m just choosing to have faith in my healers, but I can’t imagine any doctor doing anything but their best to save someone’s life. Hell, I’m just a random person, but if I could help save someone’s life, I think I’d put in my very best first aid effort. Also, I’m struggling to picture a nurse pulling out my donor card from my wallet in the midst of a life-or-death situation and saying “Nah, don’t try to save her, we can use her heart for that guy from 3rd floor”. Unless my doctor is some Joseph Mengele impersonator. Which, let’s face it, is unlikely. Or at least I’d hope so.

organ donations respect
Doctors paying their respects to the young organ donor. Photo source:

I currently have two donor cards – the first one is my 18th birthday one. It’s easy to get it online, and all you need to do is sign it. My second one is an official NHS one, issued based on a few ticked boxes and a signature on a GP registration form. It literally just takes a signature to possibly save a life. Just don’t forget to let your family know – they will be the ones making the final decision. Make sure you’re on the same page. Your mother, your brother, your daughter, your best friend, or you – all could need an organ transplant one day. By taking your healthy organs with you after you die, you’re effectively taking just that little bit of hope from someone else.

My donor cards

But it’s not just organs you can donate. And, let’s face it, thankfully very few of us will ever be in the position to be organ donors (unless our family member needs us as a live donor). But some donations don’t require the sacrifice of life. They might take 30 minutes, a few hours, or, at most, a few days of your time.

And I’m talking about blood and bone marrow.

(And a little disclaimer here, I don’t practice what I preach. I have a strong medicine-related phobia which makes me unable to donate blood or register as a bone marrow donor. Which I wish wasn’t the case.)

I think we all know how important blood is to saving lives. And also how irreplaceable. There really never is enough of it in blood banks, especially in the summer, as in the holiday season people are less likely to take their time to go to a centre and donate it.

Bone marrow transplants, on the other hand, can save lives of people with certain types of cancer and other bone marrow-destroying diseases. Contrary to popular belief, most transplants come from donor’s blood, not drilling into the hip, thus are much less invasive than you might think. It is not difficult to register, and you will be notified in the unlikely event of your genetic twin needing your help.

Those two types of donations are no less important than organ donations, yet so much easier. Give them a think – maybe you will realise that you have a spare few hours next week and have time to give somebody the most beautiful gift of all. The gift of life. Your blood.

More about bone marrow donation in the UK under this link. You can register when donating blood.

More about blood donation in the UK can be found here.

Header photo source:

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