BECAUSE the parents of a dying baby in Utah found a place for generosity in their personal grief, an 11-month-old baby in Minnesota has a chance for a healthy life.
Modern medicine made it possible to transport the liver of a baby killed in an automobile accident in Salt Lake City last Thursday to a Minneapolis hospital, where it was transplanted into the body of Jamie Fiske, a baby girl born with unformed bile ducts. But the real heroes of the lifesaving operation were the anonymous parents who had seen a televised plea for help by Jamie's father and asked their doctors if the liver from their brain-dead child could be used for the transplant.
It doesn't always happen like that. Nationally, thousands of people are waiting for transplants of eyes, kidneys, skin, livers, hearts and lungs. More than 11,000 people--125 in the District alone--are now waiting for kidney donations. Some will wait as long as five years; many will die while waiting. With the discovery of new drugs that reduce the likelihood of a transplant's being rejected, the demand for organ donors may increase sharply.
Finding suitable organs for transplantation is never easy. Donors must have died of neurological injury -- typically in an accident -- rather than from a disease, and organs must be removed shortly after death. But the chances of finding suitable donors would be greatly improved if more people chose to participate in the Organ Donor program operated in many states under national guidelines adopted by Congress several years ago.
In the District, Maryland and Virginia, you can sign up as a potential organ donor when you apply for or renew your driver's license. The motor vehicle offices will give you an information card explaining the program and a wallet-sized card that you can sign -- in the presence of two witnesses -- and carry along with your license. Or you can get in touch with the Washington Hospital Center's Transplantation Office or the National Kidney Foundation. Even if you are not in perfect health, you can donate one or more of your organs for research to help others.
Even if a person who dies in a hospital is carrying an organ donor card, the hospital will check with a family before any action is taken. No organ can be removed until the attending physician -- who may not be involved in any way in a subsequent transplant operation--has determined that brain death has occurred. If you decide to participate in the program, you can change that decision at any time simply by tearing up your card.
Thousands of people have already signed up for the program. In the District alone, almost 4,000 registered drivers have chosen to be organ donors when they renewed their licenses. But many more are needed. Thinking about death isn't pleasant, but thinking about giving life to someone else is.