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This National Donor Day, Share Your Wish with Your Family to Help Save Lives

  • Written by Guest Column By Levi Anderson, General Manager, LifeNet Health

At just seven months old, Rowan Nickerson saved the lives of two other babies. How? Through the donation of her heart valves.

Every year in the U.S., about 10,000 babies are born with a critical heart defect requiring surgery, or other procedures, during their first year of life. Unfortunately, children cannot receive artificial valves due to the use of blood thinners and other compromising therapies, which are common during treatment.

This reality is what makes Rowan’s story both tragic and beautiful. Her life was cut short by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), but she was able to give the gift of life to others. Her parents played a critical role in making that happen.

Many of us are registered donors, as demonstrated by the red heart on our driver’s license, but our loved ones play a critical role in honoring this intent by providing background information required by federal regulations. Many people who are registered as a donor have never discussed that choice with their loved ones, potentially preventing their wishes from being fully honored.

To further complicate matters, the recovery of donated tissue must occur within 24 hours of an individual’s death, a time during which families are experiencing extreme emotional distress. Sharing your desire to be a donor with your loved ones makes this conversation a little easier.

In the case of Rowan, her parents made the decision for her, because they knew in their hearts that she would want to help others. Today, the Nickerson family continues to share their story with other parents and families, as many have no idea the incredible need for pediatric heart valves nor the amazing impact that tissue donation can have on so many people. Just one tissue donor can enhance more than 150 lives, providing hope to the estimated one in 20 Americans who will need some type of tissue transplant in their lifetime.

Donated tissue implants, called allografts, can come in the form of a life-saving heart valve like Rowan’s. They also can be bone, tendons and ligaments, skin, or even cells that help repair injuries such as  torn  tendons, broken bones, damaged joints, burned skin and more. Allografts are even used for post-mastectomy reconstruction for breast cancer patients. 

Washington State has one of the highest rates of donation registration in the U.S., fluctuating above 80 percent, yet we have seen loved ones reluctant to participate on behalf of someone who registered. We can’t say for certain why this is, but we can help by educating families on the donation process to ensure their loved ones’ wishes are honored, providing critical allografts for patients within our community.

At LifeNet Health, we are dedicated to educating the community on this process to help close the gap and increase donation. This National Donor Day, take time to:

Learn about the donation process.

Talk to your loved ones about your wishes for organ and tissue donation. National Donor Day, held Feb. 14, is a great way to start the conversation.

Help bridge the gap by sharing the importance of donation on social media and with your family and friends who may or may not be registered.

Register to be an organ and tissue donor at https://www.donatelife.net/register/. Ninety-five percent of Americans are in favor of being a donor, but only 54 percent are registered.

Levi Anderson is the General Manager of LifeNet Health in the Pacific Northwest. LifeNet Health is the only full-service tissue bank in the region that recovers, prepares and distributes tissue for transplantation, medical research and education. For more information visit www.lifenethealth.org

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