There are a total of 85,498 patients waiting for an organ transplant in the United States, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, but only 13,275 organ donors in 2004.
Cesar Cabrera, 61, is one of 55,000 patients awaiting a kidney donation. He has been waiting six years for a phone call that will notify him of a possible match.
“I never leave my house,” Cabrera said. “If I leave, I might miss the call and never get a kidney.”
Cabrera said he has been on the waiting list since 1999, after being diagnosed with kidney failure. Doctors advised him that his only chance of surviving without a new kidney would be to undergo dialysis treatment three days a week.
Dialysis is a method that aims to remove toxic substances from the blood when the kidneys are no longer able to do so.
“It is very painful to stand in front of a mirror and see the way my body deteriorates,” Cabrera said. “I have to have dialysis done four hours a day, three times a week, for six years now. At first, I was optimistic, but as the years pass, I doubt I can get a donor.”
Bryan Stewart, a media representative for the nonprofit transplant donor network OneLegacy, said people are afraid to donate organs for a variety of different reasons.
“The most common misconception is the belief that if they have a donor sticker (on) their driver license, the medical team won’t try as hard to save them,” Stewart said. “This is not true, because the medical team trying to rescue (a person) after an accident is separate from the transplant team.”
Some people hesitate donating their organs because of doubts over whether it is religiously acceptable.
Stefanie Petite, senior political science major, said she believes most people do not donate organs during their lifetime for selfish reasons.
“I don’t want to donate an organ,” Petite said. “I guess I am being selfish. (But) I would donate my organs to a family member, my son, my husband (or) my mom.”
Tracy Merrell, senior deaf studies major, said she prefers not to donate an organ during her lifetime for fear that she might later need the organ for someone in her family or for herself.
“What if I donate one of my kidneys, and then my other kidney stops working?” Merrell said. “What am I going to do? Then I will be on the waiting list.”
According to Stewart, OneLegacy offers Southern California communities different programs that will help them overcome their fears about organ donations and the donation process.
“We do a special thing for families that want to donate,” Stewart said. “Once a family has said ‘yes’ to donation, we stay in touch with donors for two years.”
According to Sammy Saab, assistant professor of medicine and surgery at UCLA, the average wait for a liver transplant is about two and a half years, and the recipients are determined based on who is most in need.
“(Donation recipients are determined) on how sick someone is and if the only way they can live is if they get a transplant,” Saab said.
Once a donor is found, Saab said, the patient who receives the donation must undergo an evaluation. Nurses, doctors and psychiatrists will see the patient and will help them through the transplantation process.