For many teens, getting their driver’s license is the highlight of their adolescence. It is so exciting to finally get your hands on that two-by-three inch plastic card that gives you full access to the open road. Even though registering for a driver's license requires a boatload of paperwork, it is important to know exactly what you are (and are not) signing yourself up for. Filling out your Social Security number for what may seem like the thirtieth time is tedious, but one additional checked box won't break your hand -in fact, it can save up to eight people's lives and help more than 50 (Donate Life America)!
By this time tomorrow, twelve people who are alive today will have died - and it will not be because they were in a car accident or because they were shot, not because they were unable to procure enough money to pursue medical treatment. It will be for no other reason than because they were unable to receive the organ transplant they needed. According to the Association For Safe International Road Travel, approximately 3,286 people die in road crashes each day. With a little basic math, it is easy to see that if the nearly 3,000 people who die every day in car accidents were registered organ donors and had checked that box, the twelve people waiting for an organ transplant very possibly could have a donor match and survive.
There are many misconceptions about being an organ donor that prevent many people from becoming donors. In talking with my high school peers, it is apparent that the common misconception behind organ donation is that doctors and nurses will not strive as hard to save one’s life in the event of a medical emergency if they are a registered donor. I have consulted two medical professionals - an emergency room doctor and a trauma nurse - and have been assured that they are not made aware of one’s intent to be a donor until after death has been declared. The first priority of any medical professional is to save the lives of the injured or sick as they come to the hospital - not to let one patient perish so to save another. It is also believed that organ and tissue donation is not supported by many religions; in fact, it is quite the contrary. Most of the world’s religions consider organ donation to be an act of charity and encourage organ donation as an act of goodwill. There are very few reasons why someone cannot become a donor, but it is important to clear up any reservations you may have regarding becoming a donor. If you have any concerns about becoming a donor, talk to a doctor or an organ donation counselor to discuss your eligibility.
I know very well the importance of being an organ donor. My cousin, who is now almost 16, was born with a heart defect and was expected not to live past two weeks of age. However, soon after her birth, my cousin’s doctors were alerted that there was a viable heart from a newborn baby that would be a perfect donor match for my cousin. Being premature, as my cousin was, it was shocking that there was a heart small enough to be a match. Unfortunately, my cousin would not have received the heart transplant had it not been for a horrible accident that killed a mother and her three-day-old son on their way home from the hospital. Despite being in a completely unexpected and tragic state of shock, the baby’s father instantly and humbly offered the organs of both his wife and baby for donation. After my cousin’s transplant procedure was complete and she came home after a few months’ stay in the hospital, she was as healthy and happy as any other child - until she turned eight.
Unfortunately, heart transplants usually last up to ten years, so by the time she had turned eight, my cousin’s heart had begun to fail. She was very fortunate that after a three-year-long hospital stay, she received a second heart transplant. Currently, despite waiting to be put on the kidney transplant list, my cousin is still smiling and laughing. My cousin’s story is bittersweet - in order for her to live, another family had to lose a baby. But had it not been for that father’s humility, his unselfish split-second decision to donate his newborn’s organs, my family would be without its most inspirational member.
Nobody wants to think about what will happen to themselves when they die, especially if their death is unexpected and timely. Talking with the people you love most about what you would like to be done if something tragic should happen to you can be frightening and uncomfortable, but it can be one of the most important conversations you can have. Make your decision to be a donor known to your family, and when you sign up for your driver’s license, check the box knowing that your decision can give the amazing and priceless gift of life.