KHS students learn about organ donation
SUBURBAN TRENDSKinnelon High School (KHS) students learned that an individual's chance at becoming a hero does not end when their time on earth is over. By checking off their organ donation box on their driver's license, they can save or enhance more than 50 lives.
Noting that new state legislation requires that students learn about organ donation as part of the core-curriculum content standards for health education, Maureen Nussman, KHS health and driver's education teacher, invited representatives of the New Jersey Tissue and Organ Network to speak to sophomores who will soon be getting their driver's permits. What was unique about the presentation is that the students got to hear from a neighbor who is alive today because someone decided to become an organ donor.
Jessica Chipkin, a 2001 graduate of KHS, received a liver transplant in the summer of her junior year at Penn State after becoming extremely ill. After a myriad of tests and some difficulty in nailing down her illness, Jessica was diagnosed with Wilson's disease, a rare liver disease that often requires a liver transplant.
In addition to Jessica, her father, David Chipkin, and Jeffrey Isaacs of the New Jersey Sharing Network Foundation spoke to the students. Isaacs needed a transplant after suffering from polycystic liver disease.
Jessica told the students that she was not there to tell them to become an organ donor but she was there to tell them it is an important decision and people should make an informed decision. Jessica and Isaacs wanted to dispel some of the misconceptions that surround organ donations.
"I don't know what I would have done if someone didn't inform me about becoming a donor. There are a lot of misconceptions, so it's important to make an informed decision," said Jessica.
Isaacs said Sen. Richard Codey (D-27) was the main proponent behind mandating organ-donation education within the curriculum, now dubbed the "High School Heroes" program. Codey's family operates funeral parlors, which made him aware of the miniscule number of people who donate organs. Less than 1 percent of people who die each year donate organs, he said.
One organ donation misconception is that the number one cause of liver transplants is alcohol-related diseases. Though such diseases are among the leading causes of the need for a liver transplant, fatty liver disease tops it and is caused by diets that include heavy doses of fatty foods.
Another fact that a lot of people don't realize is that it's not just the heart, liver and kidneys that can be donated, but other organs and tissue can be donated including the pancreas, lungs, cornea, skin, bones, heart valves, intestines, ligaments, bones, saphenous veins, and tendons. In all, 22 different organs and tissues can be donated.
The one myth that they wanted to dispel because it preempts a lot organ donations is that doctors will not do the utmost to save a patient's life if the patient is a donor. The team of doctors and nurses that treat a patient who is sick or injured is separate from the team involved with the transplant recovery and the later team is only called in after death. This team is only brought in when a person is declared brain dead.
Jessica said the National Organ Donation Statistics for 2008 revealed that 2,437,000 people died in the United States between June 2007 and June 2008. Of those 2,437,000, 7,985 were organ donors, which is less than 1 percent. There were 21,745 organ transplants from the 7,985 deceased. At the end of 2008, more than 100,000 people were waiting for a life-saving transplant.
Even if just 5 percent of the nation became organ donors, all the needs would be met, said Isaacs.
Jessica said recipients of organ transplants are based on how sick a person is. On the scale of one to 40, Jessica was a 40-plus. When Isaacs was evaluated, he was a nine and very sick, but he did not get a transplant until his number reached 29. Approximately, 98 percent of transplant recipients survives after the first year and 85 percent after five years.
Another donor misconception is people must be dead to give up an organ.
People can donate kidneys because there are two, bone marrow and other organs/tissues such as part of a liver because a liver regenerates and grows back to its normal size.
Jessica is training again for the 26-plus mile New York Marathon, scheduled for Nov. 7. She will run with her Liver Life Challenge mates and raise money for the American Liver Foundation. Her transplant has changed her life in many ways. She held an account management position with a New York City advertising firm. She went on to get a master's degree in social work as a direct result of her hospitalization and transplant.
After the presentation, Nussman indicated students appeared to listen in earnest to the presentation.
"They were very quiet about it. They asked some really good questions. I think it hit home," she said.