116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Organ donation saves lives and in 2020, more lives in Iowa were saved or transformed through organ donations than ever before.
According to the Iowa Donor Network, the state saw the highest number of organ donors ever.
'2020 marks the third year in a row that a record number of lives have been transformed through organ donation and transplantation here in Iowa,” said Heather Butterfield, spokeswoman the Iowa Donor Network. 'We had 103 deceased organ donors in the state of Iowa gave 300 organs for transplant. So, basically, the result is more lives than ever before have been transformed thanks to those donors.”
Additionally, Butterfield said, 'thousands more lives were healed thanks to 886 tissue donors.”
Q: Why do you think 2020 was such a successful year for organ donation?
A: 'I think a lot of people might assume that 2020 was such a successful year for organ donation because of COVID-19, and I can tell you that's not the reason. People who have COVID are actually not eligible to be organ or tissue donors, and that's because COVID-19 is so new and there's so much about it that we still don't know. And I think, given that, the fact that we still saw record numbers of donations is an even more tremendous feat.
'Really, I think there are multiple reasons why we've seen a rise in donors over the past few years. I think more Iowans and their families are saying yes to donation. I think there's maybe some greater understanding of donation and how it can help people and the incredible gift that donation is. And I think more people are talking about it and sharing their own donation experiences.
'We have also seen a lot of advancement in the types of organs that we can accept. For example, it used to be that if a donor had hepatitis C, they could not be an organ donor. And that's no longer the case because there are drugs available that can easily treat hepatitis C. It's the same with HIV. It used to be that if someone had HIV they couldn't be a donor, but yet, there were people with HIV on the transplant waiting list. So now because of the Hope Act, HIV positive donors can donate to HIV positive recipients. And just to be clear, an HIV positive donor isn't going to give to a recipient who doesn't already have HIV.
'So I think there are just a lot of things that have come together to really push toward decreasing that recipient waiting list.”
Q: Were you surprised to see such a successful year despite the pandemic?
A: ”Early on in 2020, we saw donations come to a screeching halt in many parts of the country because of COVID-19. And we didn't know what that was going to mean for organ donation here in Iowa. But we worked very closely with our hospital partners across the state to ensure that donations could still happen.
'And, of course, we did have to make some changes due to the pandemic. Some of those communications between the donor network and our health care partners shifted to virtual platforms, and there were some times when we had to approach families of potential donors and have those conversations virtually, but for the most part - since organ transplants are very much seen as life-and-death situations - we were able to work with our partners and move forward with donations.”
Q: You mentioned the waiting list. How long is that list?
A: Right now, there are about 108,000 people in the United States waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant, and as of Feb. 2, 585 of those people are here in Iowa. Depending on the type of organ needed and the urgency of that need, a person on the donor list can wait anywhere from a week or two to several years for a transplant.
'For example, roughly 80 percent of the patients on the transplant list are in need of a kidney transplant, and the average wait for them is roughly three to five years. And that is partially due to the fact that kidney transplants are the most commonly needed transplants.
'Right now in Iowa, there are 585 people on the transplant waiting list and 505 of those people are waiting for a kidney, whereas 23 are waiting for a heart. There are also 37 people waiting for a liver and 10 are waiting for kidney-pancreas transplants. So, those are some huge difference, and I think that really illustrates how some people can end up waiting so long for those needed transplants.
'The other things is that organ donation is actually quite rare, and that's because only 2 percent of the population passes away in a manner that will allow them to become donors - meaning they have to pass away in a hospital while on a ventilator. So someone who passes away at home in their sleep for example, they can't donate organs, but they can still be tissue donors so that's why we see that we've had 886 tissue donors versus 103 organ donors in 2020.”
Q: What can be done to help decrease the waiting list?
'Become a donor. One organ donor can save up to eight lives and one tissue donor can enhance anywhere from 50 to 300 lives. So those donation are an incredible gift, whether we're talking about a life being saved with by an organ donation or a person being healed with a tissue donation.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of people take themselves off the registry or disqualify themselves because they might think they are too old or not healthy enough to be a donor. But, our oldest tissue donor was over 100 years old and advancements in medicine have made a lot of people eligible who could not be donors before. So, we encourage everyone to put their name on the registry and then let our medical experts evaluate at the time of passing whether or not they'd be an eligible donor.
'You can register at the (Department of Motor Vehicles), you can register when getting up getting your hunting, fishing or fur harvester license with the Department of Natural Resources, or you can go online and register right now, at Iowadonornetwork.org. It takes less than three minutes to register and you could save lives.
'We also like to recommend that for those who do decide to register as organ donor, please sit down and talk to your family about your wishes so they know and are prepared when the time comes.”
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