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People die every day for a lack of organ donors

Surgeons conduct an organ transplant. Picture: Getty

Surgeons conduct an organ transplant. Picture: Getty

  • by MARJORY BURNS
 

ABOUT 90 per cent of people support organ donation, but two thirds are not on the donor register, says Marjory Burns

Imagine spending all day, every day, waiting for a phone call that could change your life. More than that, a phone call that could save your life. That’s what more than 7,000 men, women and children across the UK are doing every day, while they wait for an organ transplant.

Around 90 per cent of people say they support the principle of organ donation. But more than two thirds are not currently on the Organ Donor Register. And that means, for the thousands of people whose organs are failing, there are not enough donors to help them. Right now, around three people die every day while they’re waiting for a donated organ and others will die before they can even be added to the list.

When it comes to heart transplants, the issue is particularly pressing. Better treatment and care mean that more people are surviving heart attacks but living with the life-changing damage to their heart caused by heart failure (which happens when the heart can’t pump blood effectively). Improvements in the treatment of congenital heart conditions also mean that more children born with heart problems are growing up, but sometimes they may be left with badly damaged hearts that can only be helped by a transplant.

While the overall number of people waiting for a transplant has fallen, more people than ever before are in urgent need of a new heart. In just four years, the number of people waiting for a donated heart has more than doubled, rising from 92 people in 2009 to more than 200 today.

The first heart transplant took place in 1967. It was a truly remarkable medical breakthrough, yet now, 46 years later, people whose lives could be saved are still dying simply because of a lack of donor hearts.

Between 120 and 150 heart transplants are carried out in the UK every year, thanks to the generosity of donors and their families, but other lives could be saved if more hearts were available.

In fact, every person who signs the register could potentially help as many as nine others after their death. What could be a better legacy than that?

So please, if you haven’t already done so, sign up to the Organ Donor Register today. The Register is a UK-wide database of people who want to help others to live when they die. But remember, just carrying a donor card isn’t enough. It’s also vitally important that you discuss your decision with your family and let them know that you want to help others after your death. Too many family members currently choose not to donate organs when a loved one has died simply because they don’t know what the person’s wishes were.

Last month, we were delighted to see the Welsh Assembly take the historic step of introducing an opt-out system of organ donation. This means that, unless a person expressly states that they do not want to donate their organs in the event of their death, their consent will be assumed. Of course, the views of their next of kin and close family members will still be taken into consideration, but the system should encourage more people to speak to those closest to them about their wishes, and lead to more organs being available to save the lives of people on the waiting list. And given that most people support the principle of organ donation, we also know that this system is more representative of the views of most people.

We at BHF Scotland have strongly urged the Scottish Government to follow the example of Wales, and introduce similar legislation here. Every day of delay is another day someone spends in an agonising wait for a transplant. Every day, people whose lives could be saved are dying and we need action now.

As a charity, we’re used to asking people for donations. BHF Scotland couldn’t fight heart disease without the time given by our volunteers, the stock donated to our shops and the vital funds from our supporters and fundraisers.

But today, we’re asking you to commit to making a donation that could be a real life-saver.

Visit bhf.org.uk/transplant – sign the Organ Donor Register, tell your family and friends, and encourage them to do the same. That’s all it takes to save lives.

• Marjory Burns is director of the British Heart Foundation Scotland

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