Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias The recent death of Dr. Christian Bernard serves as a rather stark reminder of just how far medical science has progressed over the years.

It was nearly 35 years ago that Bernard performed the world's first heart transplant in Cape Town, South Africa.

Following that breakthrough, news of organ transplants were few and far between. Why? Well, they simply didn't work.

The body has this rather stubborn trait of recognizing when something foreign is introduced to it � even if that something is designed to save its life. It attacks it and rejects it.

The modern era of organ transplantation essentially began when the anti-rejection drug cyclosporin was introduced in 1981. In 2000, 22,827 organs were transplanted in the United States. Since 1990, a total of 185,347 organs have been transplanted into patients in the U.S.

And all of us, if we really sit down and think about it, can think of at least one person we know whose life is or was extended because of an organ transplant.

One of my best friends in high school is alive and kicking thanks to multiple kidney transplants over the years.

A South Dakota newspaper publisher nearly died a few years ago after his heart failed. Today, he enjoys a normal life, thanks to a new heart.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that, according to the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there were 75,863 men, women and children on the national organ transplantation waiting list last year. That's up from 20,481 a decade ago. Cadaveric donors � that is brain-dead donors � increased from 4,011 in 1989 to 5,984 in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

An average of 3.6 organs for transplant were taken from cadaveric donors. Meanwhile living donors surged from 1,918 in 1989 to 5,532 in 2000.

Despite these increases, an average of 15 people still die every day while waiting for an organ that could have saved their lives.

The governor's office in Pierre recognizes the significance of this problem. In a recent mailing, it noted that 80 percent of the public say they want to be organ donors, yet surprisingly, only 39 percent of South Dakotans indicate their wishes on their driver licenses.

That, naturally, poses a problem. At the time the decision to donate needs to be made, families are often so overwhelmed with grief they find it difficult to honor their loved one's request.

This isn't a problem with no ready solution, however. In fact, a simple act by all of us can, eventually, result in a significant boost in the organs and tissues available for transplant.

Through the South Dakota Driver Licensing Program, we all can become donors by designating our wishes on our driver licenses or personal identification cards at the time we renew our licenses.

If you didn't designate a desire to be an organ donor at the time you renewed your license, you don't have to wait.

One can complete the necessary form at a local driver license exam station or on the Web site http://www.state.sd.us/dcr/dll/organ.htm.

Once you complete this form, an organ donor sticker will be provided to you to place on your driver license or personal identification card.

An organ transplant is, literally, a much-needed gift of life. We have mastered the science of taking a healthy organ from one body and transplanting into another whose organ has failed. We have developed drugs to insure those transplants will be successful.

Yet the number of people needing transplants still far exceeds the number of organs available for transplant.

Nearly 2,200 individuals waiting for an organ transplant are from our federally designated region, which consists of South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and portions of Wisconsin.

By becoming an organ donor, you can save up to eight lives. By becoming a tissue donor, you can improve the lives of up to 40 people.

In this season of giving, what could be a better gesture of goodwill to your fellow woman, man or child?

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