Every day, 20 Americans die a preventable death as they wait on organ donation lists for the transplant that could save their lives, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
"We can only offer organ donation if we have enough organs," says Evan Pivalizza, MD, a transplant anesthesiologist in Houston who is a member of the Texas Medical Association Subcommittee on Transfusion and Transplantation. "That's our problem in Texas, and that's our problem nationwide."
And that's why the Texas Legislature in 2019 designated Wednesday, Feb. 26, “Texas Bone Marrow, Blood, and Organ Donation Registry Day." It's an effort inspired by Anh Nguyen Reiss, MD, a Houston obstetrician and gynecologist who died in 2016 of myelodysplastic syndrome. Her unsuccessful effort to find a bone marrow donor spurred greater education about the need for more donors of all types.
While every kind of donation is potentially lifesaving, organ donations are especially difficult to obtain, Dr. Pivalizza says. Texas currently has 10,448 people on organ donation waiting lists, HRSA reports. They are among the 112,258 people on lists nationwide.
These numbers will go down only if more people register as organ and tissue donors with Donate Life Texas, the state's official organ registry, Dr. Pivalizza says. While 95% of U.S. adults support organ donation, only about 58% are registered as organ donors, according to HRSA.
Also, those who register as donors need to talk to family members about their choice, Dr. Pivalizza says. Donations usually take place after a patient has experienced brain death due to an accident or sickness. But even though the patient is registered as a donor, donation officials routinely make sure close family members agree with the choice of a donation before proceeding.
"Every now and again you get [a family member] who says no [to the donation], and that's a very sensitive issue," Dr. Pivalizza said. "Hopefully, [registered donors] are having the discussion with their family ahead of time, because during a tragedy, it's an awful time for family to be having this discussion. If that's something you've discussed over the dinner table … it's an easier process for everybody."
TMA policy supports voluntary blood, organ, and tissue donations and encourages physicians and county medical societies to promote donation through greater education, being familiar with each institution's donation policies, and supporting state and local efforts designed to improve donations.
"The more people who sign up – who say, 'This is what I want' – the better it is," Dr. Pivalizza said.
For more information, the TMA Subcommittee on Transfusion and Transplantation encourages physicians to refer to the following resources: