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Organ Donation Explainer

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Chad is a normal 16-year-old. He plays baseball, he likes screenwriting and he has a girlfriend. But before he turns 20-years old, he’ll need a kidney transplant. Chad is one of the thousands of people in need of an organ transplant in the United States. In fact, there are many more people on the wait list to receive an organ than there are donors on the registry.

The Mayo Clinic estimates that there are 100,000 people waiting for an organ, which means less than that are willing to donate their organ and tissue to save the lives of others. While fear and myths plague the topic of organ donation, the simple truth is, a single donor has the potential to save up to 50 lives, including teens just like Chad.

Since Chad Eaton was 18 months old, he’s lived with only one kidney. He was born with Multicystic Dysplastic Kidneys, a renal disease that required the removal of his left kidney and will eventually require a transplant for his right one. Despite his disease, Chad is a pitcher for his high school baseball team and plans to attend college in Southern California — just like thousands of other teens. However, because you can live without one kidney, but not two, Chad will need a donated kidney to survive.

In the case of kidney transplants, a living donor is a common option because humans can survive with one healthy kidney and a family member can be an adequate genetic match. Since the kidney removes excess fluid and waste from blood, one kidney can save a patient with kidney failure. However, even if a patient is lucky enough to find a match like Kevin O’Brien, who received a kidney from his father, sometimes a second transplant is needed if the organ fails again.

Thankfully, his teacher Jennifer Perretti, turned out to be a perfect chad-eatonmatch and he is now recovering. However, for teens like Chad and Kevin, getting on the wait list so people can be tested to see if they are a match, is a whole other feat.

“You have to let your kids live a normal life,” said Julie Eaton, his mom. And he does. Aside from the eight medications and repeated tests of his kidney function, Chad faces few limitations due to his condition. Though he doesn’t play contact sports like football or karate, his parents have worked with his doctors to insure he can participate in many activities.

“You have to be on the same playing field as your doctor,” explained his mom, who gives him injections of his medications on a nightly basis. “We all work as a team.” Chad’s treatment doesn’t just depend on his parents and doctors. Many of his medications are his responsibility to remember. “Sometimes he forgets and doesn’t want to take them at school.”

Despite any discomfort or side effects he has with his treatment plan, Chad will need a kidney transplant soon. As of his sixteenth birthday on April 6,2010, he had improved function from 28% to 32%. However, to be put on the organ transplant list, a patient must have 25% function — and they can’t test your family members to see if they’re a match until you’ve been placed on the wait list.

If his family members are not genetically compatible to donate, he’ll have to wait for one from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). According to UNOS, “the average waiting time for a kidney is 1,121 days” because there are so few donors. For the Eaton family, it’s a waiting game as they watch for changes in his skin tone and energy levels. Since there are many factors that go into finding an organ donor, along with many new advances in transplant surgery, the family is filled with hope.

With any luck and the generosity of a donor, Chad will receive a surgery this summer, so he can heal and get right back to his life as average teen.

To learn more about Chad, organ and tissue donation and to find out the facts about this live-saving medical practice, check out the extras below.

Organ Donation Mythbuster

Learn the truth behind the rumors and the facts.

Under the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Services and Resources Administration, UNOS maintains a centralized computer network linking all organ procurement organizations and transplant centers. 

This computer network is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with organ placement specialists in the UNOS Organ Center always available to answer questions.

A person who may benefit from a transplant is referred by his or her doctor to a transplant center, which evaluates the patient. The transplant center runs a number of tests and considers the patient's mental and physical health, as well as his or her social support system. 

If the center decides to accept this person as a transplant candidate, they will add his or her medical profile to the national patient waiting list for organ transplant. The candidate is not placed on a ranked list at that time. Rather, his or her information is kept in a constantly updated, computerized database. 

When a deceased organ donor is identified, a transplant coordinator from an organ procurement organization accesses the UNOS computer. Each patient in the database is matched by the computer against the donor characteristics. The computer then generates a ranked list of candidates for each available organ in ranked order according to OPTN organ allocation policies.

The match for each donor organ will be different and unique to the circumstances of the donor and the patients waiting. Factors affecting ranking may include tissue match, blood type, length of time on the waiting list, immune status and the distance between the potential recipient and the donor. 

For heart, liver, lung and intestines, the potential recipient's degree of medical urgency is also considered. 

The organ is offered to the transplant team for the first person on the match list. Often, the top patient will not get the organ for one of several reasons. When a patient is selected, he or she must be available, healthy enough to undergo major surgery, and willing to be transplanted immediately. 

Also, a laboratory test to measure compatibility between the donor and recipient may be necessary. For example, patients with high antibody levels often prove incompatible to the donor organ and cannot receive the organ because the patient's immune system would reject it.

Once a patient is selected and contacted and all testing is complete, surgery is scheduled and the transplant takes place. 

Source: UNOS

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