April 15, 2008
By David L. Lakey, M.D.
Commissioner, Texas Department of State Health Services
As a young resident doctor in Nashville, Tenn., I spent many days and nights working with sick people who got well with the right medical care. But other patients required something neither my medical school education nor medical technology alone could give them.
A life-saving organ.
I had the privilege of caring for people with end-stage heart disease who lived in the hospital waiting for a heart. I also cared for bedridden children waiting for a new lung because cystic fibrosis had disabled theirs.
For many, it was a long wait. The most desperate families I encountered during my training and medical practice were those waiting to get the call that a life-saving organ had been found for their child, parent or grandparent.
In our microwave society, we think the wait for a red light to turn green is a lifetime.
We have no idea.
Last year more than 450 people in Texas died waiting for organ transplants.
For some, a new organ – a heart, lung, kidney or liver – is the only chance they have for a normal life, for any life. But there is a critical shortage of organs available for transplants. More than 8,000 people in Texas are waiting for life-saving organs.
The vast majority of those are awaiting kidneys. End-stage renal disease can only be “fixed” by a kidney transplant. I remember patients who were facing a lifetime of dialysis, a treatment that temporarily cleans the blood and allows the body to function normally. Dialysis treatments require roughly the same number of hours a week as a part-time job. Many patients who received new kidneys were able to stop dialysis, go back to work and get on with their lives. Others were not so lucky. The long-awaited kidney never came.
Not long ago, I sat down at my computer and signed up as an organ donor through the state’s online registry. Like many, I had always meant to register, but somehow I had never gotten around to it. Maybe it wasn’t a priority for me. I realized, though, that it is a priority for the people waiting.
The registry makes the process fast and easy for Texans to officially register as organ, tissue and eye donors. It took two minutes for me to sign up online at www.DonateLifeTexas.org. The registration form asks just a few questions. It was as easy as ordering movie tickets online and much more rewarding.
The Glenda Dawson Donate Life – Texas Registry is the official, legislatively created, centralized list of people in Texas who want to be donors. The confidential registry is managed by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The registry takes the guesswork out of knowing if someone who dies had wanted to donate their organs, at a time when loved ones are distraught.
The registry is named in memory of State Rep. Glenda Dawson who endured years of regular dialysis treatments before receiving a kidney from her younger sister in 1987. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo and Rep. Dawson of Pearland passed the legislation in 2005 to create the registry.
Rep. Dawson died just 12 days after the registry was officially launched in the fall of 2006.
The registry now contains more than 120,000 names. More than 17,600 of those people registered online. The rest were added through Texas Department of Public Safety offices, where people can register in person.
When people know, they act. And I commend them.
For every person in Texas who registers – online or in person – many lives can be saved. One donor can save or enhance the lives of more than 50 people through donations of organs and tissues. Registering as a donor requires no money and no major time commitment.
I’m asking you to consider it. Make it a priority. People are waiting.
(News Media: For more information contact Carrie Williams, Assistant Press Officer, 512-458-7400.)
Downloadable photo of Dr. Lakey available.