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April is National Donate Life Month

SPRINGFIELD Did you know there are over 140 people on Baystate Medical Center's donor list waiting for a life-saving new kidney for transplant? And there are well over 1,600 children and adult patients waiting for a kidney from a deceased donor in Massachusetts, and more than 98,000 people nationally are in need of an organ for transplant with hundreds more added each month. Even sadder, some 17 to 19 patients die daily while waiting for an organ transplant. April has been designated nationally as Donate Life Month, sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation, when the public is challenged to sign organ donor cards. "Your decision to become a donor will make a big difference, and as one donor you can help more than 50 people needing organs or tissues," Dr. George Lipkowitz, medical director, Transplant Services, Baystate Medical Center said. Making your wishes known is easy, noted Lipkowitz. Potential donors need only to sign a donor card or indicate their wishes on their driver's license. However, while a signed donor card and a driver's license with an "organ donor" designation are legal documents, organ and tissue donation should always be discussed with family members ahead of time. "It is very important that you make your wishes known in advance to your family about your desire to donate your organs," Lipkowitz said. The transplant surgeon noted believing you are too old to become a donor is a common myth. He said anyone, regardless of age, should consider themselves potential donors. "Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated," said Lipkowitz. Even though hundreds of thousands of people have provided the gift of life through organ donation, there is still a critical need for organ, tissue, marrow and blood donation. And while great strides have been made in educating the public about deceased donations, there are many factors contributing to a decline in available organs, especially kidneys, as a more safety-conscious public result in fewer accidental deaths. Of the roughly 13,600 kidney transplants performed in the U.S. last year, 6,387 were from living donors, with the balance coming from deceased donors. A living kidney donation extends a recipient's lifespan by 17 years on average, compared with nine to 11 years when a kidney from a deceased donor is used. Today, more and more people are making a difference in someone's life by becoming a living kidney donor, offering a child or adult in Western Massachusetts an alternative to waiting on the national transplant list for a kidney from a deceased donor. Those altruistic donors will be donating one of their two healthy kidneys, and after the transplant surgery will resume normal, active lives. "New research on kidney donations has provided the strongest evidence yet that organ donors live as long as people who go through life with two kidneys," Lipkowitz said about a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. There are several benefits for a patient who receives a kidney from a living donor, including a higher success rate, a better genetic match which lessens the risk of rejection, and the transplant surgery can be scheduled at a time that is convenient for both the donor and the recipient. Deciding whether you want to be a living kidney donor involves careful consideration. All potential donors must be in good health and before being accepted as a living donor will undergo a number of medical tests by the transplant team to make sure they are a suitable candidate. Living kidney donors must be over the age of 18 and have a blood type that is compatible with that of the recipient. To learn more about becoming a living kidney donor, call Baystate Medical Center's Transplant Services at 794-2321 or visit www.baystatehealth.org and click on Transplant Services under the services tab. Also, to learn more about organ and tissue donation or to receive a donor card, contact LifeChoice Donor Services at 800-874-5215.

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