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Organ donation often goes unthought of until the need for an organ becomes an issue in a person’s life. The subject has been brought to light after the death of Ludi Vink, a 30-year-old man who was stabbed to death with a pool cue when he tried to break up a bar fight at Mitzy’s Biker Pub in Alberton on 21 February.
Vink was an organ donor and will be able to save a minimum of eight lives from his donation, according to his fiancée Clare Boadle. SA People News reported on 26 February 2017 that his heart was being sent to Cape Town, his liver divided to help a child and an adult, and his kidney sent to a separate patient.
South Africa is one of many countries that employs the system of opting-in, meaning that it relies on people volunteering to be organ donors. According to Section 2 of the Human Tissue Act, “anyone competent to make a will (sixteen years or older) may donate an or gan by signing a document attested by two competent witnesses (fourteen years or older)”.
Many students may be contemplating becoming or gan donors and may be surprised by how easy the process is. According to the Organ Donor Foundation of South Africa (ODF), the process is a short and simple one where no medical tests have to be carried out prior to donation. Bryce Svensson, a registered organ donor and second-year BA Languages student at UP, supports this, saying, “It wasn’t a long process at all. I filled in a form and handed it in, and received sticke rs to identify me as an organ donor shortly thereafter in the post.” The Foundation also says that any person who is in good health and has no chronic diseases that might af fect the recipient will be considered a possible donor.
Most people don’t realise that the donation of both tissue and organs is possible and lifesaving. The ODF states that the difference between organ and tissue donation is that an or gan transplant takes place after an individual has been declared brain-dead but continues being supported by a respirator , whereas tissue retrieval can take place several hours and even days after death. Sandra Venter, the public relations officer at the Centre for Tissue Engineering, explains that the possible tissue that can be retrieved includes corneas, bone and tendons , heart valves and skin. Venter went on to say that “bone tissue retrieval can take place up to five days after death”. A person is also able to donate certain or gans prior to death, specifically one kidney and part of the liver.
According to the ODF, as of August 2016 there were approximately 4 300 South African adults and children awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant. A Health24 article published on 28 September 2016 said that “Every day more critically ill patients are added to the waiting list. Unfortunately, this is happening faster than or gans are available.” Venter said that one of the greatest fears regarding donation is confusion in terms of mutilation: “Some still have the idea that once your organs and tissue have been retrieved that there is only [a] terrible looking mess left behind. This is very far from the truth and in all cases the body remains completely in tact, is dressed and prepared for burial/crematio n and the family can even still have a viewing.”
Venter said that the greatest organ in demand is kidneys because “many people are faced with kidney failure and forced into dialysis due to other underlying health issues, including diabetes.” The greatest kind of tissue shortage is corneas and skin.
In the modern world, the act of giving life has never been easier. This simple decision could save several lives and even give some people the gift of sight. To become a potential donor, you can phone the toll-free ODF information line on 0800 22 66 11 or visit the ODF website and register.