More than 4,000 Canadians are waiting for an organ transplant to save their lives. Last year, only 1,803 transplants were performed. Many patients remain on waiting lists. Unfortunately, 195 Canadians died while waiting for an organ transplant. Three-quarters of the patients on the list are waiting for a kidney transplant.
In 2001, there were 420 deceased organ donors in Canada for a national rate of 13.5 donors per million population. Most donors (77 per cent) donate more than one organ or tissue. According to the Canadian Organ Replacement Register, death usually results from an intracranial event (49 per cent), such as a stroke, brain aneurysm or cerebral hemorrhage. The second leading cause of death is motor vehicle collision (21 per cent). The average age of donors has increased steadily. In 2000, deceased organ donors ranged in age from under one year to 84 years old, with an average age of 39 years.
Donation matters: demographics and organ transplants in Canada, 2000-2040, a report by David Baxter and Jim Smerdon had some interesting findings. It appears that Canada's low rate of organ donation in comparison to other countries is not a result of lack of generosity or altruism, but because of better health practices. Canada’s risk of death from automobile accidents or gunshot wounds is much lower than the United States. Canadian’s access to excellent health care also lowers the probability of death.
Another report identifies that Spain has a potential donor pool that is approximately 50 per cent greater than Canada's.
Organ and Tissue Donation - Myths or Facts
Myth: I am 70 years old and too old to donate anything.
Fact: If you want to donate your organs and tissues after death, you should consider yourself a potential donor regardless of your age or medical history. There are no absolute guidelines when it comes to age, and your medical condition at the time of your death is more important than your past history.
To be an organ donor, you must die in a hospital with your body supported by a ventilator. With a ventilator, oxygen is circulated in the blood so organs can be used for transplant. Neurological determination of death must be completed and the family’s consent obtained before organ donation can occur. Organs that can be donated after death include the heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, and small bowel. Living donors can also provide a kidney or part of their liver. On rare occasions, living donors have donated a portion of their lung or small bowel to relatives who were waiting for a transplant.
If you die at home or in the community, you cannot donate your organs. Tissues, however, can be donated because blood circulation is not required. Almost everyone can donate tissues within certain time limits after death. Tissue donors can be referred from chronic care facilities, emergency departments, any patient floor in a hospital, and even from funeral homes. Tissues that can be donated include corneas from eyes, heart valves, bones and skin. Bone marrow is retrieved only from living donors.
Myth: If doctors see my signed donor card they won’t work as hard to save my life.
Fact: Doctors who care for seriously injured patients are not involved with the transplant process. Their only concern is to save lives. Organ donation is only considered after all attempts to save your life have failed, death has been declared, and your family has been consulted regarding your wishes.
Myth: Funeral plans will have to be changed to accommodate organ donation.
Fact: In most cases there will be no need to change funeral arrangements. Organ donation is a surgical procedure that takes place in an operating room. An open casket is still an option following donation should the family wish.
Myth: The donor’s family will be charged the extra costs involved in organ donation.
Fact: In Canada, organ retrieval is covered by the health-care system. There is no cost to the donor's family for this surgical procedure. The family, however, is still responsible for funeral arrangements.
Myth: Having "organ donor" noted on your driver's license or carrying a donor card or provincial health card is all you have to do to become a donor.
Fact: While a signed donor card and a driver's license with an "organ donor" designation are legal documents, organ and tissue donation is always discussed with family members prior to the donation. For that reason, it is very important that you discuss your wishes with your family. At the same time, find out their wishes. Have this discussion – save a life!
Myth: I wear glasses so I can’t donate my eyes.
Fact: Poor eyesight does not prohibit eye donation. Only the cornea, the clear front covering of your eye, is used for corneal transplantation. The sclera (white part of the eye) can be used for research (if you wish) to aid in future treatment of eye diseases. Each month, more than 200 eyes are donated to the Eye Bank of Canada
Myth: My religion prohibits donation.
Fact: Most of the major religions either openly support organ and tissue donation, or support the individual’s choice at his or her time of death
Myth: Transplants are experimental and rarely successful.
Fact: Generally, transplantation success rates are excellent – between 80-95 per cent of patients are doing well one year after their transplant. Overall, transplant recipients enjoy an excellent quality of life , and are able to work, attend school, travel, and play sports. They are encouraged to engage in all activities that anyone would participate in.
Public Information on Organ and Tissue Donation: Downloadable Brochure