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Organ and Tissue Donation
Saves Lives
Joseph Roth 
By Joseph Roth
President & CEO
New Jersey Organ and
Tissue Sharing Network
Susan Mueller holding violin

Susan Mueller, an amateur violinist from Monmouth County regained her vision thanks to the generous donation of a cornea.

A Somerset resident suffering from congestive heart failure now leads a normal life after receiving a heart transplant.

An amateur violinist from Monmouth County has new inspiration, due to a corneal transplant that restored her vision.

And a student at Kean College is able to continue her academic career thanks to a fellow student who made a living kidney donation.

These three people are among those who have recently received organ and tissue transplants in New Jersey. Thanks to the generosity of many people and a new program that made it easier to sign up as a donor, 613 organ transplants were performed in New Jersey in 2007 and hundreds of tissue transplants were made possible.

One organ donation story made headlines in the state this year. It began last March, during the NCAA Eastern Regional basketball tournament at the Meadowlands. Just hours before the North Carolina men’s team prepared to play, the team’s mascot was struck by a car as he walked along the shoulder of Route 4 in Fort Lee. Tragically, the mascot, Jason Ray, died of his injuries three days later. Ray wanted to be an organ donor, and had indicated it on his driver’s license. His decision resulted in four New Jerseyans receiving life-saving organ transplants and over 100 tissue transplants. The story received tremendous publicity, resulting in even more awareness of the need for organ and tissue donation.

The Jason Ray story has inspired many people to become donors, and we are extremely grateful for that. In fact, 2007 was a banner year for organ donation in New Jersey as a record number of residents joined the state organ donation registry and there were more organs available for transplant than ever before. But we still have over 4,300 New Jerseyans waiting for a transplant, and the need to join our donor registry is more important than ever.

New initiatives help increase donation One reason for the record number of donations in 2007 is the New Jersey Sharing Network’s partnership with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJ MVC.) Since the advent of digital drivers licenses in 2004, New Jersey residents have the opportunity to register as organ and tissue donors when they apply for or renew their driver’s license or ID cards. Last year 423,899 New Jerseyans took advantage of that opportunity and we now have 1,746,962 registered with the MVC organ donor registry or 24.4% of those who hold New Jersey licenses. The MVC donor registry is a central location for donor decisions. It is confidential and immediately accessible at the time of a patient’s death by NJ Sharing Network transplant coordinators, who work with family members and the hospital to facilitate the donation. The more registrants there are, the more opportunities are created for saving lives when transplants are needed.

Senate President Richard J. Codey (D-Essex) has introduced a bill in the New Jersey legislature which will

Donor and recipient

Kellye Miller (right) is a living donor who provided a kidney to her friend Morgan Johnson.

make the MVC registry even more effective, by creating an online portal. Senator Codey’s pioneering legislation—the “New Jersey Hero Act”—is aimed at increasing organ donation and educating residents on the importance of giving the “gift of life.” In addition to the online registry portal, the legislation would make New Jersey the first state in the nation to require organ donation decisions before applying for a driver’s license and a comprehensive educational initiative for high schools, colleges, nursing and medical schools.
Over the years, organ donation has become better understood and more people realize its value. This has helped increase the number of people who say yes to organ donation in one of several ways—by joining the MVC registry, by signing and carrying a donor card, or by indicating their desire to be a donor through an advance directive.

The MVC registry is the most accessible way to become a donor. And, under New Jersey’s Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, joining the MVC registry is a legally binding indication of your wish to be a donor. It is not revocable by another person. If you choose to designate your donation another way, it is important to share this information with your family so they understand your wishes. While some people are uncomfortable having this discussion, it will ease the decision-making burden at the time of your death.

Why aren’t more people donors?
Organ and tissue donation has become a common theme in our popular culture. Whether we are watching an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” or “House,” or reading news stories about stolen body parts, the process of organ and tissue donation and transplantation makes its way into our consciousness. This increased awareness can be very helpful, but it also brings greater possibility of myths and misconceptions creeping into our decision-making process. At times it may become difficult to distinguish between a compelling story line and the truth; or between a criminal activity and a common practice.

Myths and misconceptions about organ and tissue donation may also stem from cultural beliefs, distrust of the medical establishment, or even urban legends. For the 4,300 New Jerseyans waiting for an organ transplant, cutting through this misinformation is a matter of life and death. Here are three common myths—

1. My religion prohibits organ donation.
FACT: All major religions support organ donation.

2. If I am admitted to the hospital and they are aware that I have signed a donor card, I will not be treated as aggressively because of the need for organs.
FACT: The decision to sign a donor card will in no way affect the level of medical care for a sick or injured person. The team of doctors and nurses involved in treating the patient
is not involved with the transplant/recovery team, which is called in only after death has occurred.

3. Organ transplants can be “bought” by the wealthy and powerful.
FACT:
Organs are computer matched according to compatibility of donor and recipient tissue, determined by various tests, waiting time, and the medical need of the recipient. Social or financial data are not part of the computer database and, therefore, are not factors in the determination of who receives an organ.
How can you help? First, be sure to say yes to donation on your driver’s license. You should also share this information with your family. Consider whether your workplace, civic organization or religious institution is an appropriate venue for public education about organ donation. New Jersey Sharing Network can provide speakers and materials as needed. If you are interested in volunteer opportunities or participating in fundraising events, please call 1-800-SHARE-NJ, visit our web site at www.sharenj.org or e-mail us at www.info@sharenj.org.

And don’t forget, life’s for sharing, pass it on.

The New Jersey Sharing Network is a non-profit, federally certified and state-approved organization responsible for recovering organs and tissue for New Jersey residents in need of transplants. Sharing Network Foundation raises funds to support the mission and work of NJ Sharing Network.

 

 

 

 

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