Reality Of Life On “The Waitlist”
Education and Advocacy Organ donation is an issue that can be hard to think about and even harder to talk about.
When asked, however, 85 percent of Canadians agree that they support organ donation in theory, but seemingly only in theory, as estimates suggest less than a quarter of us are actually registered as donors. This disparity between good intentions and actions has real world consequences, and with over 4,500 Canadians currently waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, we need to do better.
Numbers don’t tell the
For many, these statistics are just numbers. Most Canadians don’t fully grasp that those 4,500 are only the most desperately sick individuals, people who have often exhausted all other medical options, and who are on the verge of death. “For every person on the waitlist, there are dozens more behind them, who are desperately unwell, but who are still not quite sick enough to be considered for the waitlist,” says Dr. Jeffrey Zaltzman, a kidney transplant surgeon and the Chief Medical Officer of Transplant for Trillium Gift of Life Network. With organs in such scarce supply in Canada, triage is the only option, as the sick are forced to live in a terrible state of limbo where they are ill enough to be placed on the waitlist, but must still be well enough to survive the months, or even years, of waiting ahead of them. Unfortunately, too many people can’t hold out, and one person on the waitlist for an organ dies every three days. It is difficult to truly grasp the constant state of fear that life on the waitlist, by necessity, entails.
“Not only does dialysis take a toll on patients, it also costs the system over 70 thousand dollars per patient, per year. For those patients who are lucky enough to receive a transplant, they would say the improvement in their quality of life is priceless. It also saves the system hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient.”
Organ and tissue donation – a cure and a cost saver
Two thirds of those waiting for a lifesaving transplant are in need of a kidney and these patients wait, on average, four to nine years for their second chance. Dr. Zaltzman explains that his patients must undergo burdensome and difficult dialysis while they wait: “Not only does dialysis take a toll on patients, it also costs the system over 70 thousand dollars per patient, per year. For those patients who are lucky enough to receive a transplant, they would say the improvement in their quality of life is priceless. It also saves the system hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient.”
One organ donor can save up to eight people and enhance the lives of as many as 75 others through the gift of tissue. An amazing statistic, but still, there simply aren’t enough donors to meet the need. The critical shortage of organs means that currently, 40 percent of kidney transplants and around 16 percent of liver transplants come from living donors. These donors give an incredible gift, but it is not without sacrifice, it is not a gift without a price.
There is no pain associated with deceased donation, no cost to the donor, no risk. If we had enough deceased donors, no one would die waiting because an organ didn’t become available in time.
Canada needs a culture shift
According to Ronnie Gavsie, the President and CEO of Trillium Gift of Life Network, the tide is turning in Canada, albeit slowly. “We had a record year for organ and tissue donation and transplant in Ontario in 2014 and we’re hopeful 2015 will show the same upward trajectory. One in four people in our province is now a registered donor. We want to make sure every family has the opportunity, and the information, to make a lifesaving decision. We need people to talk about this, to share their wishes with family and to register their consent. That is the only way we can build a true culture of donation in this country.” In Ontario, you can register consent online today at www.BeADonor.ca. To find out how to register in your province, visit the Canadian Transplant Association website, www.organ-donation-works.org.