Katherine HeiglLeading

Roswell Star Advocates Organ Donation

Thanks to MyrnaLynne and Omby for sending this in.

Katherine Heigl says families should discuss organ donation
By W. Reed Moran, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
May 16th/2002

With Tuesday’s series finale of Roswell, Katherine Heigl’s role as an alien living secretly here on Earth came to an end. But when it comes to the subject of organ donation, Heigl is far more interested in new beginnings.

“In the fall of 1986, my brother Jason was killed in a car accident,” says Heigl. “He was riding in the back of a pickup truck when he was thrown and suffered massive brain

Heigl’s family waited while Jason endured an eight-hour operation, only to be finally determined brain-dead. Without the benefit of having discussed the possibility of organ donation earlier, the family was suddenly thrust into a second crisis.

“Like many families, we never considered organ donation would be an issue we’d be confronted with,” says Jason’s mother, Nancy. “But when it became clear Jason wouldn’t survive, the entire family knew what he would have wanted.”

The family unanimously agreed that organ donation was the best way to preserve Jason’s legacy.

“It’s hard for people to be thinking about organ donation for the first time in the midst of crisis,” says Heigl. “But organ donation is the most honorable way to preserve the memory of someone you love. I learned through difficult experience that this is the right and humanitarian thing to do.”

Jason’s mother says she never had a moment’s regret after his organs were given to other patients hanging on the brink of life. “Jason’s body wasn’t disfigured in any way from the procedure,” says Nancy Heigl. “I always felt that Jason’s organs were his last gift to a world for which he had the greatest affection.”

The Heigl family agrees that organ donation is an important element of healing in the wake of sudden fatality. “When you have the chance to spare some other family the pain of loss you’re going through, why wouldn’t you do it?” says Nancy Heigl.

“Almost all my friends and I have organ donation stickers on their driver’s licenses,” says Heigl. “We all need to be aware that there’s always a critical shortage of available organs, and people’s lives are literally hanging in the balance.”

A continuing need,

According to the Coalition on Donation, (COD) nearly 80,000 men, women, and children in the USA are currently awaiting life-saving organ transplants. And every thirteen minutes another name is added to the national transplant waiting list. An average of fifteen people die each day from the lack of available organs.

In the year 2000, there were only 5,984 organ donors in this country, resulting in a total of 22,854 organ transplants. In addition, 46,949 cornea transplants and 750,000 tissue transplants were performed in the same year. COD reports that the vast majority of Americans are in favor of organ donation. More than half say they have signed a donor card or indicated their wish to donate on their driver’s license. Although these are legal documents, organ donation is always discussed with family members prior to donation.

And grieving family members are often an unintentional hurdle in the process of carrying out the decedent’s final wishes.

“Only about 40-60 percent of family members finally give their consent to organ donation, when a relative – who has already indicated his intent – has died,” says Dr. Francis Delmonico, professor of surgery, Harvard Medical School.

“This underscores the continuing need for people to communicate their wishes before they’re gone,” says Delmonico.

Delmonico adds that last year the percentage of living kidney donors became the majority of kidney donors for the first time in history.

And that is not necessarily a good sign.

“We have a vast opportunity to receive and utilize organs from those who have recently died,” says Delmonico. “But we still haven’t managed to get the word out effectively.”

While Delmonico has no intention of discouraging live donation, he believes he has an obligation to promote and encourage organ donation as a final wish.

“There is always some risk to one’s health, however small, in live organ donations,” says Delmonico. “We want to help minimize all potential and theoretical risks by helping maximize the pool of available organs after death. And that begins with encouraging people to decide it’s a good idea, and to communicate that decision with their family.”

That said, Delmonico and other professionals understand and appreciate the critical ongoing need for live organ donation. And they aren’t shy to ask for our help.

Life giving

While it is important to talk about end of life decisions including organ donation, it is both possible and more common to donate organs and partial organs while living.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, (NKF) one in four Americans says he would consider donating a kidney to a stranger. Kidneys are the most common organ given by living donors. Other organs that can be donated while living include partial liver, lung, and pancreas.

Transplants from living donors are often more successful because of extensive pre-testing to ensure the best possible “match” based on medical criteria such as blood type. National statistics indicate about a 10% increased success rate after one year in the case of living donation.

For the donor, there is little danger in living with one kidney. The liver has the ability to regenerate and regain full function. Lungs and pancreas do not regenerate, but donors usually have no problems with reduced function.

Living donors must also be aware of the physical and psychological risks involved before they consent to donate an organ. They should discuss their thoughts and feelings with a doctor, psychiatrist/social worker, and/or transplant coordinator.

When it comes to organ donation, Heigl has no reservations and is quick to expose the truth.

“The need is always out there,” says Heigl. “Make sure the people around you know your feelings on organ donation, so your loved ones can fulfill those wishes without any doubt.”