Donors giving the gift of life

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The potential to perform more organ transplants is getting stronger thanks to local and national milestones.

Last week, specialists at Forth Valley Royal Hospital celebrated their first successful non heart-beating organ donation, a procedure that had failed to produce viable organs on six attempts in the past three years.

The tremendous achievement, which resulted in two men on the organ donation waiting list each receiving a kidney, was coupled with news that the highest ever number of transplants were carried out in Scotland in the past year.

There were 356 transplants carried out from both deceased and living donors, 10 more than during the previous year.

And the all-important organ donor register continues to grow, with the number of potential donors increasing by more than 50 per cent over the past five years.

For those on the front line, it’s encouraging news.

Dr Mark Worsley, clinical lead of the organ donation team at NHS Forth Valley, said: “Transplants don’t just save lives, they transform them.

“Many people waiting for transplants live a miserable life, they have crippling heart conditions which leave them breathless, or they are hooked up to a dialysis machine two or three times a week and their lives are pretty rubbish.

“Transplants make such a difference.

“Now, with more technical improvements in the way we transplant organs, we are closing the gap between supply and demand.

“The more traditional organ transplants, which came from brain-dead donors, were not keeping up with the demand for organs.

“The procedure that we performed last month is a way to fill the gap.

“We were missing out on a few potential donors in the past when maybe the focus on donation was not quite so intense as it is now.

“But in the past three or four years, we have been looking at using all the donors we can.

“Now there is the extra attention on donors after cardiac death, and these techniques have come through over the past 10 years from the big city hospitals.

“We know that procedures like this can be carried out in hospitals like Larbert, Kilmarnock and Inverness which have intensive care units.”

With beating-heart procedures, the patient is brain dead and legally dead.

But medics are now looking more at patients who are not brain dead, but who are not going to recover due to, most commonly, a severe brain injury.

Dr Worsley said: “In this way, we just let nature take its course, and we can then prepare for the transplant.

“In some cases, the process of death can mean that the organs can’t be used.

“In a way you are starting at a disadvantage, and you are up against the risk involved. If the patient doesn’t die naturally within two or three hours, you run the risk of losing the organs, as they become unusable.

“However, the kidneys tend to be more robust, better than the liver, heart or the lungs.”

It is through education, training and awareness that staff in our hospitals are able to better identify potential organ donors.

“What we want to do is not miss any opportunities for organ donation,” he added.

While procedures and advancements continue, one thing that has and will always remain the same is the heartbreaking job of discussing organ donation with bereaved families who have just lost a loved one.

Dr Worsley said: “It’s, understandably, very difficult for the families. Even if they know that the patient is going to die, we have to then tell them that we have to whisk them off in five minutes for transplant.

“But I think that the publicity and the national campaign that’s ongoing, and also what The Falkirk Herald is doing, all help. The rising number of people joining the Organ Donor Register also helps.

“If the patient is on the register, then we have a 90 per cent chance of getting the family’s consent, but if they are not, then that chance drops to 30 per cent.

“If someone is on the register we can tell the family that this is what their loved one wanted, and that can really make a difference.”

Recent figures show that 38 per cent of t