QUESTION: I never thought about becoming an organ donor until my brother died of kidney failure last year. But at age 78, I would like to know if I’m too old to be a donor, or if they would even use my organs if I were to die from COVID-19. What can you tell me?
ANSWER: There’s no cutoff age for being an organ donor. Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up. Many people well up into their 80s donate. The decision to use your organs is based on health of the organ, not age. So don’t disqualify yourself prematurely. Let the doctors decide at your time of death whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.
Regarding the COVID-19 part of your question, as of right now, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network does not recommend transplantation of organs from donors known to have the virus. So if you were to contract the coronavirus and die, your organs would probably not be used; however, this may change as treatments are developed.
Here’s what else you should know about becoming a donor.
In the U.S. alone, more than 112,000 people are on the waiting list for organ transplants. Because the demand is so much greater than the supply, those on the list routinely wait three to seven years for an organ, and more than 7,000 of them die each year.
Organs that can be donated include the kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, pancreas and intestines. Tissue is also needed to replace bone, tendons and ligaments. Corneas are needed to restore sight. Skin grafts help burn patients heal and often mean the difference between life and death. And heart valves repair cardiac defects and damage.
By donating your organs after you die, you can save or improve as many as 50 lives. The Richmond-based United Network for Organ Sharing maintains the OPTN, a national computer registry that matches donors to waiting recipients.
Being an organ donor does not in any way compromise the medical care you would receive in a hospital if you are sick or injured, nor does it interfere with having an open-casket funeral if you want that option. And most major religions in the U.S. support organ donation and consider it as the final act of love and generosity toward others.
How to donate
If you would like to become a donor, there are several steps you should take to ensure your wishes are carried out, including:
Identify yourself: Designate your decision to become an organ donor on your driver’s license, which you can do when you renew it. If, however, you don’t drive anymore or if your renewal isn’t due for a while, consider getting a state ID card; this also lets you indicate you want to be a donor. You can get an ID card for a few dollars at your nearby driver’s license office.
Tell your family: Even if you are a registered donor, in many states, family members have the ultimate say on whether your organs may be donated after you die. So clarify your wishes to family members. Also tell your doctors and indicate your wishes in your advance directive. This is a legal document that spells out your desires regarding your end-of-life medical treatment when you can no longer make decisions for yourself. If you don’t have an advance directive, go to MyDirectives.com where you can create one for free.
Jim Miller is editor of the Savvy Senior. Send your senior questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org.