Pleading the case for organ donation
A motorcycle accident took her son’s life away. Several years later, a stranger’s death in yet another motorcycle accident gave her back hers.
Luzviminda Vileta Deocadis, 72, had lost hope of finding an organ donor, even after paying the P10,000 deposit to get her name on the list. She had been waiting for four years, resigned to her fate of never knowing life without dialysis treatment.
Since being on hemodialysis thrice a week, she couldn’t travel, not even for a quick out-of-town holiday. Hemodialysis, a treatment in which blood is run through an external filter and the clean blood is returned to the body, prevented her from going anywhere.
“I thought, this is it. This is how I’m going to die,” Deocadis told Inquirer Lifestyle.
Then, one day, in July last year, she got a call. Doctors found her a match. Would she be okay accepting a cadaver organ donation?
It wasn’t cheap. The kidney could be hers for P450,000. After consulting with Dr. Arlene Lamban, her nephrologist at the Makati Medical Center, Deocadis agreed.
“People have misconceptions about cadaver organ donations,” Lamban said. “They think the donor has already been dead for hours before the organ was harvested. That’s not true. They are brain dead, legally dead, but their other vital organs are still functioning when the organs are harvested.”
When a person is brain dead, it’s just a matter of time before the rest of the organs follow.
Lamban said that with today’s technology, it doesn’t matter if the donor is living or a cadaver, as long as a crossmatch turns out negative. The decision, however, must be made quickly before the donated organ “dies.”
In Deocadis’ case, the operation took place a good 36 hours after the harvest. Today, almost a year after her operation, Deocadis is feeling healthier than ever. She is finally free of her hemodialysis treatment, and will soon be traveling to Chicago to see her family.
Dealing with the bereaved
Dr. Leo Carlo Baloloy, transplant surgeon at the Makati Medical Center, said negotiating with a mourning family is hard, even with the deceased’s written request to donate. Some families also feel donating would make their kin “incomplete.”
“We want to encourage people to become organ donors,” Lamban said. “It’s not supposed to be rare; they are extending their lives through others. There isn’t that much awareness about donating organs yet, especially cadaver organ donation. Even if the patient has a written request to donate his/her organs, the hospital still needs to seek permission from the family. That should not be the case.”
Baloloy also wanted to dispel the urban myth that some people are kidnapped, their kidneys harvested and sold to hospitals. This claim, no matter how outrageous, is also among the reasons potential recipients veer away from cadaver organ donations.
“Retrieving an organ is a very complicated procedure,” he said. “This is not butchery. You have to screen them, clean the organ, make sure there is no blood, and store them in a cold bath with a special solution. The solution alone is so hard to get and very expensive.”
The Philippines, Baloloy said, does not use marginal kidneys from donors who are old, have hypertension and other health-related issues. The reason, he said, is that Filipinos normally get a transplant only once in their lives.
“It’s ‘one time, big time,’” Baloloy said. “But if you look at it, a transplant is a win-win, financially. The cost of eight months of dialysis is equivalent to one transplant operation, not to mention, the quality of life improves significantly.”
For starters, they won’t have to go through dialysis treatment anymore. Dialysis is a temporary procedure to help your body clean your blood, Lamban said. “If you get a new kidney that will work 24/7, that’s the cure.”
The kidneys filter waste products from the blood. They regulate blood pressure, electrolyte balance, and red blood cell production in the body.
Symptoms of kidney failure may include lethargy, weakness, shortness of breath, confusion and swelling.
To help prevent kidney failure, have your blood pressure checked regularly. Uncontrolled high blood pressure speeds up the natural course of any underlying kidney disease.
“Avoid getting diabetes and hypertension,” Lamban said. “Eat a low salt and low protein diet. People loading up on protein, like those who want to grow muscles, may be at risk of developing kidney failure. The bottom line here really is that it’s a lifestyle disease.”
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