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Giving the gift of life

In our lifetime, we must sign our name a few thousand times. We sign checks, report cards, requests, and are asked to sign on the dotted line many times. But there is one dotted line that outclasses the rest in importance: the spot on the back of your driver’s license that volunteers you to be an organ donor upon your death. That signature means that you are willing to give someone another chance at life.

Several years ago, we signed our licenses and didn’t give it too much thought – until January 2014, when I went on a transplant list for a new kidney. That was when it hit home: Organ donors are people who give the gift of life.

There are hundreds of candidates on the transplant list at Erie County Medical Center waiting for a kidney. Nationally, more than 3,000 are added to the list monthly.

Of course, a potential donor must be of good health, and match with the recipient as far as blood type, tissue and other physical factors.

Thousands of adults and children are on the transplant list. Many are waiting for hearts, lungs or livers, and even tissues can be used. The list grows every day.

After being approved to be on a list, patients have to keep themselves in the best health possible. That means keeping up with checkups, taking our medicine faithfully. Our failing organ is monitored as to its function and ongoing dependability. We have lab work done every month and our doctors review our status with us on a regular basis.

A live donor is ideal, if you are lucky enough to get one. Not all family members qualify because of different blood types, and other factors due to health problems of their own. That is why it is so important to sign to be a donor upon your death, and to let your family know that this is your wish.

Organ and tissue donations take place only after all efforts to save your life have been exhausted and your death has been declared by your physician. The doctors that are trying to save your life are entirely separate from the transplant team. No set age limit exists for organ donation. At the time of death, the potential donor’s organs are evaluated to determine if they are medically suitable for donation. Therefore, people of any age wishing to become a donor should sign up on a registry and – most importantly – tell their family they wish to become one. A deceased person can also become a donor, if his or her next of kin consented to donate the organs after their relative’s death.

All major religions in this country approve of organ donation and consider it a gift – an act of charity.

The patients who receive your organs and tissues will be identified based upon such factors as blood type, length of time on the waiting list, severity of illness and other medical criteria. Factors such as gender, age, income and/or celebrity status are not considered when deciding who receives an organ.

Donor cards are available from the Health Resources and Services Administration by downloading from organdonor.gov. Or you can sign the back of your driver’s license and inform your family of your intention to become a donor.

Share your life. Make the decision to become a donor. Carrying out your wish to save other lives can bring your family members comfort in their time of grief.

And, just possibly, the life you save could be mine.