The head of the state's organ-transplant center has a request for families during this holiday season: Discuss with your loved ones the possibility of donating your organs.
You could save someone's life.
Mark Reiner, executive director of the Transplant Resource Center of Maryland, says nearly 300 Marylanders are on a waiting list for organ donations.
He says about 23,000 people are on a waiting list nationwide at a time when the pool of potential donors is diminishing because of improved trauma care and stricter safety laws, resulting in fewer accident-related deaths.
Despite this, he says, the number of organ donors in Maryland is up 20 percent this year over 1990, largely because of aggressive campaigning by his agency.
The Transplant Resource Center of Maryland is one of 69 centers around the country certified by the federal government to recover organs. The centers act as middle men between the "brain dead" patients and the people waiting for organs.
People can volunteer to donate organs when they apply for or renew their driver's licenses. While the licenses identify donors, Reiner says, it's also important for the volunteers to tell family members that they wish to donate organs.
Reiner says police at accident scenes often confiscate the licenses of victims. As a result, medical personnel at hospitals have no way to identify them as organ donors. But the relatives of people killed in accidents can authorize the removal of organs from their loved ones -- even if their licenses do not identify them as donors.
For more information about donating organs, contact the Transplant Resource Center at 328-3626.
Reiner says organ-procurement centers are behind the eight ball because there are not enough potential donors to serve the 23,000 people awaiting organs. He says fewer than 10,000 tTC potential donors turn up in any given year.
Donors must meet certain requirements: They must be age 70 or younger, have no history of high blood pressure, diabetes or cancer, and they must be "brain dead." Such patients are "dead from the neck up," Reiner says. Their organs are kept functioning by artificial means.
Many patients do not meet these requirements. Sometimes hospital workers fail to contact the Transplant Resource Center and a potential donation is lost. Sometimes a family refuses to allow the organs of loved ones to be removed for donation.
As a result, Reiner says, organs were recovered from only 4,900 people last year.