Organ Donation: The Gift of Life

Braden Tippetts, 2006

My choice to become an organ donor resulted from the loss of a high school friend. Braden Tippetts was just finishing his junior year of high school when a car accident left him comatose, without hope of recovery. Soon after, doctors from several states gathered at the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center — each a participant in what is known as The Gift of Life. Braden’s liver and small intestine were removed and flown to Miami; one of his kidneys went to a patient in Atlanta. His heart was flown to Salt Lake City. In all, eight needy people were saved by the donation of Braden’s organs; Braden’s father, who had been on dialysis for over a year, was one of them.

Anyone who doubts the importance of public awareness in solving social issues needs look no further than Facebook’s 2013 organ donation initiative. ABC News reported that by allowing people to share the fact that they are organ donors through social networking, and by providing an easy-to-access link to donor registry websites, the Facebook initiative encouraged a spike in the number of registered donors. In the first days of the initiatives donor registration increased twenty-one-fold.

Despite the fact that publicity regarding organ donation is know to have a significant and positive impact on the number of registered donors, current data on the need for more donors is disturbing. According to official statistics from organdonor.gov, in the next ten minutes someone will join the list of over one hundred twenty thousand candidates waiting to receive an organ transplant in the United States. It is expected that twenty-two people on that list will have passed away by this time tomorrow. Although the number of registered donors has increased modestly, the statistical gap between donors and waiting list candidates has widened every year for the last two decades, and this pattern is projected to continue.

According to the National Center for Health and Health Statistics, approximately two and a half million people (each a potential donor) are dying every year in the United States. Each donor has the potential to posthumously give up to eight organs: the heart, pancreas, lungs, liver, intestines, and kidneys. Granted, not all organs are healthy enough to become donations, and not all people pass away in circumstances that make it possible for doctors to recover their organs, but while potential for organ transplantation is enormous, the number of registered donors is too few. The relatively healthy 18–24 year old demographic, in particular, registers for donor status at a lower than average rate.

Solving this crisis demands individual effort. Because you are reading this article it is likely that apathy is not the major issue preventing you from becoming an organ donor. Studies consistently show that two factors keep people from registering as donors. First, misconceptions and misinformation may create confusion and fear about donation procedures. Second, many likely donors cite never having been asked to register and unawareness of how to do so as their primary reasons for not joining the organ donor database. That’s why I challenge you to first, take a moment to educate yourself on how to become a donor; second, register with your state’s organ donor database; and third, share this information with your friends and families.

Becoming an organ donor is a very simple process and can either be completed in-person at your local Department of Motor Vehicles or through the online registry. Any given state’s online registry can be joined in less than three minutes. You can find your state’s registration form at http://donatelife.net/register-now/. One easy way to encourage others to register as donors is to update the “Life Events” section of your Facebook page. Under “Health and Wellness” you will be able to share your donor status with your friends. For more information on donation needs and procedures, please visit www.organdonor.gov. With misinformation out of the way, organ donation is clearly seen for what it is, a risk free, altruistic service that can relieve suffering and keep families intact.

In the midst of her family’s crisis, Braden’s mother, Amy Tippetts said, “Even though people say this is a tragedy and it’s an awful thing we look at it differently; it’s very sad — we are very heart broken and we are gonna miss Braden — but we also feel very grateful that now we have a chance to help others.” Due to her family’s selflessness, a tragic news report about a life cut too short was changed into the story of eight people who will live full lives thanks to Braden, and his gift of life.

*This article was originally published in the September 2015 edition of the BYU Political Review. https://politicalreview.byu.edu/polreviewposts/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=73
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