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May 2009 Issue

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Leery of Organ Donation? UC Surgeon Debunks the Myths

By Katie Pence
Published May 2009

That little red heart on your driver’s license could help you save lives.


But myths about organ donation are leaving some people uncertain—and sometimes leery—about donating their organs or tissue in the unfortunate case of a fatality, creating fewer options for the 100,000 people across the United States waiting for a life-saving transplant.


UC transplant surgeon Steven Rudich, MD, PhD, urges the general public not to believe everything they hear about donating organs and tissue. He says there are a number of donation “myths” that make people think twice about offering their kidneys or corneas for the cause.


Myth 1. If a patient is identified as a donor, the hospital staff will not work as hard to save his or her life and will remove his or her organs as soon as possible—even prematurely—to help others.


“This is absolutely not true,” says Rudich, director of the liver transplant and hepatobiliary surgery programs at University Hospital. “The organ procurement organization, or OPO, isn’t even involved with the potential organ donor until after the patient has been pronounced dead. Your doctor has nothing do to with donation.”


Myth 2. Organ donation goes against religious beliefs.


“We hear this from time to time, and every major religion stresses selflessness,” says the professor of surgery, noting that organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most religions. “This is one of the kindest, most selfless things that one human being could do for another: save a life.”


Myth 3. A person can be too old or too young to be an organ donor.


“If you are able to sign your driver’s license, then you’re not too old or young to donate,” says Rudich. “We have seen organ and tissue donors who are well into their 70s. In many reconstruction surgeries, doctors use the bones, skin and ligaments—or tissues—from older donors. In addition, there are very few medical conditions that disqualify a person from donating organs. For example, if a person has diabetes, we may not be able to use their kidneys or pancreas, but we can potentially use their liver as well as other tissues, such as bone, tendons, etc.”


Myth 4. Open casket funerals are impossible for organ donors.


“Donation takes place under the same strict, sterile conditions as any surgical procedure,” he says. “A donor is treated with extreme care and respect, and the body is not disfigured in any manner whatsoever.”


Myth 5. It is impossible to do a live kidney donation unless the donor is giving to a close family member.


“This certainly isn’t true,” Rudich says. “There are many avenues for live kidney donation if someone wants to donate to a random person in need. In fact, a kidney from a living donor is healthier in almost all ways than a kidney from a person who is deceased.


“Also, live kidney donors often worry that they will face medical problems after giving up one of their kidneys. The chances for a kidney donor who is evaluated and deemed to be an acceptable candidate for donation to have a kidney problem are minuscule. In addition, the surgery is minimally invasive and a donor is usually out of the hospital in two days and back to work within several weeks.”


Myth 6. Rich, famous or powerful people are moved to the top of the list when they need an organ.


“There are stringent rules against this,” he says. “The United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, makes sure that all aspects of transplantation are highly regulated. We list people for transplantation based on their needs—how sick they are—not on how famous, rich or well-connected they are.”


Myth 7. The donor’s family will be charged for the donation. In addition, the family has a say in the donor’s decision.


“The only cost to the donor or to the donor’s family is for the time the donor is being treated in the hospital,” Rudich continues. “Once he or she is declared brain dead, the insurance provider of the recipient takes over the costs.


“When a person obtains a driver’s license or state ID, they are asked if they want to be an organ and tissue donor. When he or she says, ‘Yes,’ this is considered first person consent—a legally binding contract. Once a potential donor is determined to have given a first person consent, the family is not to be involved in the consent process.


“The wishes of the deceased are supposed to be respected, and donation is expected to proceed. However, OPOs want to be respectful of the family’s wishes as well. This is why it is so important for people to discuss their donation plans with their family ahead of time.”


To learn more about organ donation, visit LifeCenter Organ Donor Network’s Web site at 



Celebrating National Donate Life Day

More than 150 people, including those directly impacted by organ donation, gathered outside of University Hospital on April 3 to celebrate National Donate Life Day.

The event was a collaborative effort among the hospital, LifeCenter Organ Donor Network and the Cincinnati Eye Bank to celebrate those who donated their organs, tissues and eyes to save and improve the lives of others.

As a tribute, city of Cincinnati officials declared the day “Organ Donation Day.”

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