Organ donation leaves a lasting legacy
Source: Ka Leo, University of Hawai'i
This year, about 17 of the nearly 400 men and women on Hawai‘i's organ transplant list in end-stage organ failure will spend their last Christmas waiting for organs that never come.
But one group wants that number to go down to zero.
"We all know about organ donation," said Goldyn Daupin, communications coordinator for Legacy of Life Hawai‘i. "If we think about it, we know it's a good thing, but the people who are on that waiting list are brothers, sisters, parents, aunties, uncles, best-friends, neighbors and that's why we care."
Formerly known as the Organ Donor Center of Hawai‘i, LLH maintains the state's organ donor registry – a list of people who consent to have their vital organs recovered when they experience either brain death or cardiac death.
LLH works with transplant coordinators at hospitals who monitor patients' progress. If the donor takes a turn for the worse, a brain death test is done on the patient while specialized social workers communicate and work with the family through the entire process.
After the passing of a donor, any reusable vital organs, tissue, or even bone marrow, can be transplanted to organ recipients in critical stages of organ failure. Bone grafts may go to help victims of cancer, fractures, or arthritis. Skin tissue is recovered to help burn victims. Corneas can be used to restore vision. A complete donation of all retrievable vital organs and tissues can save or improve the lives of up to 25 patients.
But according to LLH, more than 100,000 Americans are waiting to receive an organ that matches their body size and blood type. As of November, 87,150 people await kidney transplants, while nearly 20,000 people are waiting for a liver, a heart or a lung.
EDUCATION AND COMMUNITY OUTREACH
Since last August, LLH has revamped their image to bring light to this sensitive issue.
In hopes of changing the community's perception of organ donation, educational awareness initiatives such as registry drives and community outreach programs are playing a big part in their organization.
"I can't tell you the number of people who saw ‘Organ Donor Center Hawai‘i' and would just literally just walk the other way," said Daupin.
Those in need of organ transplants are, contrary to popular belief, not dying of symptoms caused by years of alcohol or drug abuse, nor are they people who are simply obese. The few who make it to the transplant list are otherwise completely healthy, besides their one complication.
"It's tough to imagine that it would ever happen to you. You never know when you will be on the other side," Daupin said. "Recipients tell me all the time ‘I've always registered to be an organ donor, and it was always on my license, never in a million years did I think I would need one.'"
University of Hawai‘i West O‘ahu student Yolanda Domingo is one of the people who never thought she would need a transplant. A Pearl City mother of three and a grandmother of five, Domingo returned to school to pursue her degree. She worked two jobs to support her family and had no health complications.
One day Domingo developed a cough she initially thought nothing of, but as it got worse she brought it to the attention of her doctor. He prescribed antibiotics to Domingo in order to remedy her common symptoms.
Domingo prematurely stopped taking her medication once her symptoms subsided, resulting in an infection that later attacked her heart. That simple cold jeopardized her health in ways her doctor could not imagine. Without a heart transplant, her heart specialist explained, she would surely die.
As Domingo's heart started to fail, she was placed on the transplant list but found little hope. After nearly a year of waiting, she had accepted her fate, even beginning to prepare her own funeral arrangements.
Barely able to speak, she received the one call she will never forget on Mother's Day: "We found a heart for you."
Domingo was able to return to her family and complete school thanks to the selfless gift of her donor, Steven Ginoza. Ginoza donated to four people, including Yolanda Domingo, giving them opportunities to see their children graduate, attend their weddings, and to be there for the birth of their grandchildren.
Lucy Kunimura, a community outreach coordinator at LLH, is an advocate for organ and tissue donation and works to pro-
mote awareness through various programs. While 41 percent of Hawaii residents with driver's licenses are registered organ donors, she and the rest of the organ donation advocates at LLH feel that number is still much too low.
THE OLD AND THE NEW
LLH says that those most likely to oppose organ donation are older people. The barriers are more cultural than religious - Daupin believes that the older generations may have witnessed transplants that have not been as successful as they are today.
But advances in technology in the last few decades have been exponential, while new methods and new medicines all play a part in the high success rate of recovery and transplants.
Now, says LLH, success rates are in the recipient's favor.
"The one year survival rate for kidney transplant recipients is almost 96%, for heart recipients, over 82%, for liver recipients, more than 80%." according to the LLH website. "Thousands of individuals receive life saving and life enhancing transplants each year."
The lack of optimism from the older generation, though, troubles Daupin.
"The hardest part is hearing a family say ‘I know this is going to save lives but we aren't going to donate,'" Daupin said.
"If someone is not registered to donate, then it is up to the family to decide. It's heartbreaking because there are people who are going to die without those organs."
Daupin agrees – as someone who works with donors, she sees the value firsthand of a gift that can extend the life of a transplant recipient up to 10 or even 20 years.
"They are not just people on the list," Daupin said. "They are our family, and they are our community."
Legacy of Life Hawaii
405 N. Kuakini Street,
Honolulu, HI 96817
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
Wearing the green Legacy of Life ribbon is the international symbol for organ and tissue donation. It honors those who choose to save and enrich the lives of others through selfless donations.
The green awareness ribbons distributed by LLH are hand made by volunteers, hands to help make the awareness ribbons are always appreciated; a great project to do alone or in groups.
LLH participates in many community events and is always looking for people to help staff informational and registry tables. They also host several events that honor the donors and their families. Volunteering your time at their office also offers the organization much needed support.
To volunteer, contact Legacy of Life Hawaii at (808) 599-7630, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.