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Omaha Magazine

The Ultimate Gift

Apr 29, 2015 12:52PM ● By Susan Meyers
This article appeared in May/June 60-Plus

When Karen and Allen Harn checked the box on their driver’s license to become organ donors many years ago, it was more of an abstract idea, one they never dreamed would actually come to fruition.

It was less than a year ago that Karen found herself sitting in an intensive care unit beside her husband’s bed. The day before, 71-year-old Allen had become ill and vomited. Some of the vomit aspirated into his lungs. Unable to breathe, Allen passed out. Karen called 911, but by the time help arrived and he was resuscitated, it was too late. Doctors later determined that Allen was brain-dead.

Karen later decided to follow through with Allen’s wishes to donate his organs. “Allen was such a giver,” she says. “I knew this is what he would want.”

Allen’s liver was donated to a 40-year-old nurse, saving her life. “It was the perfect match,” says Karen. “One giving person to another giving person. I still get very emotional when I think of Allen. But knowing that he helped someone else is such a positive way to remember him.”

Currently, there are approximately 124,000 people on the waiting list for an organ and about 21 people will die each day waiting for an organ. “There is a very real need for people to register to become organ donors,” says Tom Neal, public relations coordinator for Nebraska Organ Recovery System. “One organ donor has the potential to save eight lives and a tissue donor can improve as many as 60 lives and enhance the eyesight of two.”

In Nebraska alone, there are approximately 500 people waiting for an organ to become available. But only about 53 percent of the eligible population of Nebraska has registered to become a donor.

“Sadly, one of the myths about organ donation is that people think they are too old to donate but that simply is not the case,” says Neal. “There is no age limit. If a person is otherwise healthy, many of their organs could still be viable for an organ donation. A couple of years ago, a 92-year-old man in Texas saved the lives of two people by donating his organs.”

The need for organ donors has been rising significantly over the years. The reason? The number of people who are eligible for organ transplantation has been steadily rising due to advances in organ transplantation.

Organ donors from ethnic minorities are in even greater need. Minorities including African-Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and Hispanics are more likely than whites to have certain chronic conditions that affect the kidney, heart, lung, pancreas, and liver. Although organs are not matched according to race/ethnicity, and people of different races frequently match one another, ethnic minority populations tend to have certain blood types which must be matched for transplantation. Therefore, the potential for minority donors to help many people is even higher.

Becoming a donor is fairly easy. When you register to renew your driver’s license, simply check the box that asks if you’d like to be a donor. You can also log onto to register.

One of the biggest obstacles to organ donation is a lack of understanding of what it means to donate an organ. Neal uncovers some of those myths.

Myth: If I register to become an organ donor, my doctors won’t work as hard to save my life.

Truth: Patients are being cared for by non-transplant medical professionals. In addition, there are very strict criteria that must be followed before a person can be declared dead.

Myth: An open-casket funeral isn’t an option for people who have donated.

Truth: What is done when someone donates their organs is no different than what is done when performing an autopsy. Once they are clothed, you cannot tell the difference.

Myth: I’m too young to make that decision.

Truth: Your parents can authorize this decision. Families should consider having discussions about organ donation during school age.

Myth: I’m not in good enough health to donate my organs.

Truth: Very few medical conditions disqualify you from donating your organs. It may be determined that certain organs are not suitable for transplantation, but other tissues and organs may be fine.

Myth: Organ donation is against my religious beliefs.

Truth: Most religions support organ donation, including Catholics, Protestants, Islam, and most branches of Judaism. If you are unsure, the federal website, provides religious views on organ donation and transplantation by denomination.

Myth: My family will be charged additional costs if I donate my organs.

Truth: The organ donor and family are never charged for donating organs. Those costs are passed on to the transplant recipient.

“Talk to your family and friends so that they know what your final wishes are and make a logical decision today so that your loved ones don’t have to make an emotional decision at the worst possible time,” says Neal. “Leave a legacy and live on through your donation.”


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