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Get the Facts on Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation in Older Adults

“I’m too old to donate, plus, I’m not in the best of health. Nobody would want my organs.”

It is a common myth that older adults are undesirable candidates and not needed to register as organ, eye and tissue donors. In fact, there is no age limit to register as a potential donor. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services identified the nation’s oldest organ donor as a former Texan named Carlton, who upon his death at age 92, donated his liver and gave a 69-year-old woman a second chance at life. Other occurrences of older donors include a man from South Korea who was a cardinal in the Catholic Church. He became an organ and cornea donor at age 86.

Anyone can become an organ and tissue donor regardless of age, race or medical history. Strict medical criteria are used at the time of death to determine the suitability of organs and tissues for transplant. There are very few diseases that automatically disqualify someone from organ donation, so even someone with a variety of medical conditions in their history may still have some organs and tissues that can be donated. Don’t assume you do not qualify to become a donor. By registering as a potential donor, you allow physicians to be able to determine at the time of death whether or not all or some organs can be used.

Although the decision of whether or not to become a donor is very personal, it is encouraged that you share your decision with loved ones so they are aware of your wishes. You can choose to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor either at the Motor Vehicle Administration while obtaining your license or ID or online directly with the Donate Life Maryland Registry. If you are not registered and have the potential to be a donor at your time of death, your legal next of kin will be offered the option to choose donation on your behalf. This is why it is encouraged to share your donation wishes because a brief conversation now can help provide loved ones with guidance if they need to make this important decision.

When it comes to organ, eye and tissue donation, there are a few basics that are important to realize. First, donor designation NEVER interferes with medical care. An individual who seeks medical care or requires emergency treatment due to trauma or illness will receive all medical interventions that are appropriate under the circumstances without regard to the potential for organ donation. Only Donate Life Maryland professionals—separate from hospital personnel—have access to the official Maryland Donor Registry and donation is only discussed as an option after death is declared.

Additionally, there is no charge for a person to donate their organs. Any fees related to the removal of organs are the responsibility of the transplant recipient. Lastly, donation of organs will not alter the appearance of a body so as to prevent an open casket at a funeral and all major religions support organ, eye and tissue donation as the ultimate act of charity. If you have specific questions about your faith’s views on donation, consult with your minister, pastor, rabbi or other religious leader. 

Currently, the average wait for an organ in the United States is five to seven years, and an average of 22 people die every day because a suitable organ is not available. A single individual can save up to eight lives through organ donation and improve the lives of up to 50 persons through tissue donation.

Organs that can be donated include the kidneys, pancreas, liver, heart, lungs and intestines. Corneas and tissues such as bone, skin, heart valves and veins can also be donated.

In 2014, 29,532 people received organ transplants and over 1 million more received cornea and tissue transplants. Of these transplants, the age bracket that provided the highest number of donated organs from deceased individuals was the 50-64 group (10,758 organs). Additionally, of these organ recipients, 61.6 percent of them were age 50+. So not only are older adults potentially eligible to donate organs, but they are potentially eligible recipients as well.

An assumption that one is too old or not in the best of health to register as a donor is an incorrect one. If you support sharing the gift of life through organ, eye and tissue donation, make the choice to register as a donor today at DonateLifeMaryland.org and be sure to share this important decision with loved ones.

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