(PCM) If you’ve ever given your heart away, you know that love is one of life’s greatest gifts. But here’s something else to consider this Valentine’s Day: one of love’s greatest gifts is life.
February 14th is National Donor Day (a.k.a. National Organ Donor Day). Started in 1998 as a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Saturn Corporation, the United Auto Workers Union and various health organizations, Donor Day has become an annual nationwide effort to raise awareness for organ, eye, tissue, marrow, platelet and blood donation.
Many of us are willing enough to donate our dollars, our time, or our goods to a needy cause – it makes us feel good to make a difference.
But finding people to volunteer for physical donations – giving up parts of ourselves, literally – can be challenging. It can make us think about our own mortality – since, let’s face it, the only time we’re eligible to donate something like a heart is when we don’t need it anymore.
And while you don’t have to be a goner to be a donor (a living, healthy person can provide a plethora of parts, including blood and blood components, stem cells, bone, marrow, skin, amnion (after childbirth), umbilical cord blood, or organs such as a kidney, pancreas, a lobe of a lung, or part of a liver or intestine), the decision to be a living donor is still a very personal one – and also, for some, still icky to think about.
But not thinking about it is a luxury many people can no longer afford. The American Red Cross reports that 41,000 blood donations are needed every day. Although an estimated 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, less than 10% actually do.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, over 120,000 people are currently on an organ transplant list; – enough to fill two professional football stadiums – but only a fraction of those will ever receive a transplant. An average 22 people die waiting, every day.
Just think of the difference it would make if every person who could be a donor would be a donor.
Part of the mission of National (Organ) Donor Day is to educate people so they can make informed choices about end-of-life issues (such as organ donation/living wills) and living donations.
There are many avenues to becoming a (hero)donor.
- Say “yes” to the question at the DMV. This puts you on a donor list in your home state, so your wishes for end-of-life donations are a matter of public record. It’s free and easy. Many states will you register online. Plus you get a pretty little Valentine on your driver’s license.
- Blood and blood components (like plasma or platelets) can be collected through blood drives – businesses, schools and community groups often hold drives in January for National Blood Donor Month – or in regional donation centers. Many centers offer incentives to donors like money, free health checkups, membership benefits (blood when and if you ever need it!) and cookies. I mean, come on. Cookies.
- If someone you know is in need of a transplant and you’re thinking about helping out, you can usually contact the hospital/transplant center where they are registered. Ask to be evaluated as a potential donor – the process is free and confidential and, again, often includes a comprehensive health examination at no cost to you. You could even be eligible for reimbursement of travel, subsistence, and other expenses related to your mission. (Visit livingdonorassistance.org)
- Even if you don’t personally know a transplant patient in need, you can give the gift of life by becoming an altruistic donor – someone who signs up to donate just because it feels like the right thing to do. There are many online registries for different types of donations. Organdonor.gov and optn.transplant.hrsa.gov are run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Unos.org (United Network for Organ Sharing) and redcross.org (The American Red Cross) are also excellent places to start.
If you can’t be a donor for health, religious, or personal reasons, you can still help support the cause. Health organizations area always looking for volunteers, financial donations, or even just a signal boost.
When someone wishes you Happy Valentine’s Day today, have a heart – wish them a National Donor Day too!