April is National Donate Life Month
by Stefanie Powers
A record number of Louisianans gave the gift of life last year through organ and tissue donation, according to the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency (LOPA), the federally designated Organ Procurement Organization for the state of Louisiana.
In spite of the challenges of a pandemic and two devastating hurricanes, there was a 14 percent increase in tissue donors over 2019. With one tissue donor able to either restore health or enhance the lives of up to 50 people, the increase is significant: There were a total of 498 donors last year. Donated tissue is used for heart valve transplants for children born with congenital heart defects, skin grafts for burn victims, and various orthopedic rehabilitation procedures.
In 2020, 211 people donated their organs, just a slight decrease from 2019. Altogether, 699 organs were donated for transplant. An additional 44 organs not suitable for transplant were earmarked for research.
Kelly Ranum, LOPA CEO, is proud that her team was able to adapt and support donor families throughout such a difficult year.
“As we strive to fulfill our core purpose of Making Life Happen, we continue to look for innovative ways to assist our healthcare and community partners and to honor our donor heroes.”
Founded in April 1988, LOPA is the federally designated, not for profit organ and tissue recovery agency for the state of Louisiana. LOPA also manages the Louisiana Donor Registry, a database of individuals who have expressed their decision to become organ, tissue and eye donors.
Every April, LOPA focuses statewide attention on the lifesaving gifts of organ, tissue and eye donation as part of National Donate Life Month. Established by Donate Life America and its partnering organizations in 2003, it encourages people to join the donor registry, and honors those whose selfless acts of donation helped others in need.
Last year’s success story is due to LOPA’s state-of-the-art Donor Care Center. LOPA was the first organ procurement organization in the nation to utilize video visualization of recoveries for transplant surgeons who were unable to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The surgeons were able to virtually enter the operating room thanks to overhead surgical lights fitted with high definition cameras, while in-house pathology services enabled them to evaluate an organ’s viability swiftly and efficiently.
Most of the tissue recoveries were performed at the Donor Care Center, freeing up hospital resources and allowing for greater control over sterilization practices. In fact, LOPA was recognized by LifeNet Health for achieving the lowest culture rates for heart valves for transplant.
Despite the positive 2020 statistics, more donors are desperately needed. Over 2,000 people are currently waiting on a life-saving organ transplant in Louisiana. Just one organ donor can potentially save up to eight lives. People become donors through a traumatic brain injury, which is often caused by a stroke, aneurysm, or a severe head injury. Only two percent of the population will beome a candidate for organ donation, and transplants only occur at specialized facilities that perform them.
Organ donation ultimately begins with the decision to donate. A family discussion is strongly encouraged so that everyone is aware of this decision. Understanding the facts of donation will make the process easier when the time comes.
You can register as an organ, eye and tissue donor in the state of Louisiana by saying “YES” when getting your driver’s license or State ID, or by signing up on the Louisiana Donor Registry at www.donatelifela.org