Lifesaving power

Apr. 14, 2014 @ 07:12 PM

Delores Benton Evans is 66 years old today, and a practicing attorney.

If it weren’t for a tragic accident -- and generous foresight -- she would not be alive today.

Evans, whose story The Herald-Sun’s Keith Upchurch told Monday, in 2008 was in desperate need of a new kidney because hers were failing. 

She got one – from her son, who had volunteered to give up a kidney for her. Her son was fatally shot that year, so she received the transplant at his death.

Evans is one of thousands of examples of lives saved by organ and tissue donations. Sadly, there could be thousands more – the demand for donated organs far outstrips their availability.

Over 120,000 people are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, with about 3,400 in North Carolina, according to the website of DonateLifeNC, a non-profit “collaborative group of organizations that promote eye, organ and tissue donation.”

Those numbers are higher than in past years, as more and more people are in need of transplants. “We’ve seen an increase in diabetes and high blood pressure -- those are the diseases that tend to land people on the transplant waiting list,” said Sharon Hirsch, executive director of DonateLifeNC.

April is National Donate Life Month, and Hirsch and her colleagues are urging more North Carolinians to register as potential organ donors.  Many people register through the Department of Motor Vehicles when they are issued a new or renewed driver’s license, and DonateLifeNC runs an active program to help train DMV personnel.

North Carolina’s donor registry is the seventh largest in the nation, but even at that, only about half of the state’s licensed drivers are registered. In Durham, those numbers are a bit lower – about 44 percent of license applicants sign up at the Durham East DMV office, and about 48 percent at the Durham South office.

Many people shy away from registering because of misconceptions about the process. DonateLifeNC works to dispel those.

No one need worry that the medical system would be tempted to try less aggressively to save his or her life if there is a symbol indicating organs can be used for transplant.

“A doctor’s first priority is to save your life, whether you are a donor or not,” the organization’s website notes. “Organ, eye and tissue recovery takes place only after all efforts to save your life have been exhausted and death has been legally declared. The doctors trying to save your life are completely separate from the medical team involved in recovering and transplanting organs and tissues.”

Many transplant decisions don’t even involve contemplating death – an admittedly difficult topic. Kidneys are the most needed organ, and those can be transplanted from living donors – as Evans’ son had agreed to before his untimely death.

Anyone can join the registry, regardless of age or medical history.  There’s no cost to register or to be a donor. Signing up does give you, as DonateLifeNC puts it,
“the power to save lives” -- which is, after all, a pretty awesome power.