Nothing can motivate us to organize for a cause like a personal connection, and just in time for National Donate Life Month I have had a personal encounter with tissue donation. My wife just had knee surgery and what we thought would be a torn ligament ended up being missing cartilage on her bone, and she needed cartilage added back. Her recovery and long-term prognosis are only possible because someone agreed to donate their child's tissue.
Transplantation is one of the most remarkable success stories in the history of medicine. But despite continuing advances in medicine and technology, the need for organs and tissue is vastly greater than the number available for transplantation. Currently, more than 115,000 men, women and children are awaiting organ transplants in the United States.
It is understandable that it is a sensitive subject, especially when not making the decision for your own body in advance. When the person is a family member and you have the opportunity to make it for them many emotions come into play. And many misconceptions and inaccuracies only hurt the cause. Donate Life, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit alliance of national organizations and state teams across the United States committed to increasing organ, eye and tissue donation, has a page to Learn the Facts of donations. For example, some might think the taking of organs and tissue from the body to be sacrilegious but the truth is that all major religions in the United States support organ, eye and tissue donation and see it as the final act of love and generosity toward others. Another worry can be for those that want an open casket funeral, but an open casket funeral is possible for organ, eye and tissue donors. Through the entire donation process the body is treated with care, respect and dignity. Finally, there is no cost to the donor or their family for organ or tissue donation.
In my wife's case, sometimes the surgery involves taking the tissue from another spot on your own body where you can spare some cartilage, but that means two surgeries. Instead she had a procedure known as Chondral Defect Repair with Particulated Juvenile Cartilage Allograft. Basically that means that she had cartilage from a juvenile donor grafted to her bone. There are two benefits to this: first there is only one surgery, and the juvenile tissue has advantages over your own adult tissue. Per the Zimmer Technical Memo linked above, transplantation of juvenile chondrocytes could potentially lead to improved cartilage defect healing because immature articular cartilage tissue has a significantly higher cell density than mature articular cartilage and it has more sulfated glycosaminoglycan and chondrocytes (if you have seen joint health supplements you will recognize those as glucosamine and chondroitin). Because of the thoughtfulness of some family, the donated tissue of their child is now helping my wife return to full mobility with a knee that will be better than it was before her injury even.
Hers is a simple tale, but there are many amazing ones out there. Back in March of 2012 we covered a story about Chris Persinger, a 17 year old boy who lost his life but by checking the organ donor box on his license gave not only many strangers but amazingly his own sister the gift of health. Years after her brother's death, younger sister and recipient of Chris's advice and love, Caitlyn, tore a ligament while playing sports and ended up getting her brother's donated tissue. The full amazing story is here.
If you wish to be a donor when the time comes, you can make it known to your family and friends, and we all know about the stickers we can put on our drivers licenses, but the best thing to do is register. You can do so at Donate Life's website, but as of May 1, 2012, Facebook made it easy to do right there. Instructions can be found here. Please consider officially registering, you never know who your donation may help, possibly even a family member. The odds may seem extreme but the story above about the Persingers shows it can and does happen.
You can also help by making a monetary donation to ensure the systems are in place to promote and handle organ and tissue donations. Go here to make a donation to Donate Life America.
All of April is National Donate Life Month, but April 19th is National Blue and Green Day - the colors of Donate Life. Wear the colors and help spread the word about the need for people to register.