Organ donation program
You can help save lives by choosing to be an organ and tissue donor. Your family may find comfort in the fact that someone can now hope for a better life, thanks to your gift.
Every year, hundreds of men, women and children wait anxiously for a phone call that will save their lives. They need a new kidney, liver or heart. They are the ones who hope to see once more, or for the first time, through a cornea transplant.
When that call does come, they are the ones who get a second chance to live life to the fullest, thanks to the kindness of people who gave the gift of life through donation of organs and tissue. But many more are waiting and many lives are lost because suitable donors are not found in time.
People will spend months or even years waiting for that second chance because the need for organs and tissue in Canada continues to outweigh the availability.
You can improve and save lives by choosing to be an organ and tissue donor. Your family may find comfort that someone else has hope for a better life.
If you want to be a donor, the most important thing you can do is to make your wishes known to your family and next-of-kin. Doctors will support the decision of the family at the time of death. That is why it is so important to talk to your family about your wishes.
How does organ donation work?
When does organ and tissue donation become an option?
There are a few different donation scenarios:
- "Living organ donation" takes place when someone donates an organ or part of an organ to another person and goes on to lead a healthy life.
- "Cadaveric organ donation" takes place when someone suffers sudden death and loved ones opt to artificially maintain vital organs by ventilator to keep them suitable for transplant.
- "Tissue donation" can take place in most cases when someone has died. With tissue donation, there is no need for blood flow to be maintained by artificial ventilation after death.
Under the Yukon' Human Tissue Gift Act, you can chose to donate any organ or tissues need for transplant or transplant research; any organs and tissues needed for transplant only or any organs or tissues needed for transplant except those you designate not to donate.
How to become an organ donor
You can become an organ and tissue donor by signing a registration card and talking to your loved ones. It's critical to share your decision with your family as they will be asked for final consent to donate your organs after your death. Discuss your intentions with them so they can understand, support and respect your wishes in the future.
Is there nothing else I can do? Carrying a card seems so informal.
If you'd like to formalize your commitment to donate organs and tissue, you can register your intentions through the Yukon organ donor registry. Information is held in a central information bank in Whitehorse and your Yukon Health Care Insurance card will list you as a donor.
Organs and Tissues Urgently Required
There are many different organs and tissues that are urgently required.
Cornea: when it comes to improving vision, corneal transplants have an 85 to 90% success rate. They are among the most often performed transplants.
Hearts: A donated heart can make the difference between life and death for someone. At the very least, a new heart vastly improves the patient's quality of life. Current follow-up shows that 80% of heart recipients will be well and active five years after the operation.
Lungs: Donated lungs usually go to people suffering from cystic fibrosis and other, often fatal lung conditions.
Kidneys: Usually a donor shares his or her two kidneys with two recipients. People need only one functioning kidney to lead a normal life. 80 to 90 per cent of kidney transplants are successful.
Liver: The only cure for liver failure is a liver transplant. Liver recipients have an 80% rate of success.
Pancreas: A new pancreas may reduce the need for insulin injections for diabetic patients.
Bone: Bone that has been destroyed by tumors or infections can be replaced with healthy bone grafts, saving limbs that would otherwise have to be amputated.
Skin: Donated skin is most often used to speed up the healing process for severe burn cases.
Heart valves: Heart valves are used to replace diseased or damaged valves in adults and children.
Telling your family
Even if you have signed a donor card or are registered as a donor, doctors will still ask your family before retrieving organs or tissue.
You may find the topic of organ and tissue donation an uncomfortable one to think about, let alone make a firm decision about. But keep in mind that when someone suddenly dies, their family is often faced with this difficult decision at the worst of times. Things can be made a little easier if the family is aware of the wishes of the organ and tissue donor - knowing that their loved one's final wishes were carried out, and helped to save lives in the process, can be a great source of comfort.
Here are some tips on how to discuss this important decision with your family:
Talking It Over
Prepare for your conversation. Make your personal decision about donation. Think about possible questions, and seek answers.
Talk about it where it feels natural. Where does your family feel most comfortable discussing sensitive issues? In the family room, in the car, on a walk?
Have the discussion with everyone who may need to know. Who would be called to your bedside if you were about to die? These are the people who will be asked for permission to proceed with donation. Talk to them about your decision and listen openly to their concerns. Explain why their support is important to you, and to people who receive donations.
Find out what each person would want you to say if you are ever asked for permission to donate their organs or tissues.
Look for opportunities to talk about organ donation. Wear a green ribbon to show your support. Share the story of someone who needs a transplant or has received one. Show people your signed donor card.
Make it easy for your loved ones to decide on your behalf. As many donor families will attest, the donation of a loved one's organs helped them find comfort in a tragic situation.
What you need to know
Here are the basic facts:
- Everyone is a potential organ and tissue donor, regardless of age. The oldest Canadian organ donor was over 90 years of age while the oldest tissue donor was 102 years old.
- Retrieval of organs and tissue is carried out with respect and dignity. It does not interfere with funeral practices and no one will know about your gift of life unless your family tells them.
- Organs and tissue that can be donated after death include the heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, small bowel, stomach, corneas, heart valves, bone and skin.
- Most major religions support organ and tissue donation. If your religion restricts the use of a body after death, consult your religious leader: restrictions may not apply if the donation could save another life.
- Studies show that donating the organs and tissue of a loved one who has died can provide immediate comfort and long-lasting consolation to family members in their grieving.
Frequently asked questions
QDo transplants really work?
AAbsolutely. Transplant procedures and outcomes continue to improve each year. Most transplant patients live enhanced, productive lives.
QAm I too old?
ANo — In Canada the oldest donor was over 90 while the oldest tissue donor was 102 years old.
QWill my organs be suitable for transplantation?
AYour age and medical condition at the time of your death will determine which organs are suitable for donation.
QIf I say yes to organ donation, does that mean that I have to donate everything?
AWhen you register as an organ donor, you can choose what you wish to donate. This will be listed with your registration in the central file.
QCan my family over-rule my wishes?
AYour family will be asked at the time if they know your wishes about organ donation, and for their agreement. Whilst your wishes can be over-ruled, most families do want to carry out the wishes of their loved ones.
That is why it is so important to discuss organ donation with your family, now, and to let them know your wishes.
QDoes organ and tissue donation affect funeral services?
ARetrieval of donated organs and tissue is carried out with surgical skill, respect, and dignity. It does not interfere with funeral practices and no one will know about your gift of life unless your family tells them. In the Yukon, a team of medical personnel including doctors and nurses is sent up from Vancouver to transport the donor by air to the nearest large centre where the organs/tissue will be retrieved. The donor then returns to the Yukon. Funeral arrangements are not affected by organ donation. Organ donation happens within a few hours after death and there is no reason to delay arrangements.
QCan people who wear glasses donate their corneas?
AIn most cases those who wear glasses or contact lenses can become corneal donors.
QCan I change my mind?
AYes, you can change your mind about becoming a donor. Donors who change their mind may rescind their registration at any time by calling (867) 667-5209.
Organ donation program
Toll Free (Yukon, Nunavut and NWT); 1-800-661-0408 ext. 5209
Organ donation program (H-2)
Health & Social Services, Government of Yukon
Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 2C6
Location: 4th Floor, Financial Plaza | 204 Lambert St. | Whitehorse, Yukon [map]