Giving life to others in death

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Shyama Rajagopal

Kochi: A person who died in a road accident two years ago continues to live in three different persons. His parents had donated his organs liver and two kidneys for those who were waiting for such support from outside.

This was a high achievement in the State as far as organ transplantation is concerned. Despite the high success rate of healthcare in Kerala, there are no cadaver transplant surgeries going on, said surgeon S. Sudheendran of the transplant surgery department at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences. Among the neighbouring States, 30 liver transplants have been carried out in Hyderabad. In Delhi, about 70 liver transplants have been done.

There are about one lakh patients who develop permanent kidney failure every year and they would have a normal life if they are fortunate to have a kidney transplantation, said V.N. Unni, nephrologist, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences. There are many thousands who have a permanent heart failure or liver failure, for whom the only chance of survival is a transplantation.

There are around 50 lakh people with blindness in India, which can be cured by corneal transplants. Of the 80 lakh people who die annually in the country, at least 10 lakh eyes can be utilised, if people had been willing to donate eyes after death. But in the country, only 20,000 eyes are being donated every year. The State, which has taken the lead in many parameters ranks the tenth.

Kidney is the only organ where transplantation surgeries have been done, since an individual needs only one kidney to live. However, it is the inscrutability in kidney donation that has made organ donation as a whole look up something that people do not like to be associated with.

But, the need of organ donation has been felt so much in the tertiary-level medical care that the Society for Organ Retrieval and Transplantation (SORT) was formed in 2000 to create awareness about it.

"We don't need our organs after death. We need to consider the concept of donating our organs instead of burning or burying them so that some others may be able to continue their lives," said Dr. Unni.

And, who can donate organs, is a question that comes to mind. A person diagnosed to be brain dead by a team of doctors could be considered for organ donation, said Dr. Unni. Brain death and cadaver transplants have been legalised in the country since 1994 through the Human Organ Transplantation Act, though the West had legalised it about 30 years ago. The State adopted it in 1996.

Earlier the concept of death was the stoppage of heart, said Dr. Unni. However, advances in technology have made it possible to make all the important organs work artificially for some time without the command of the brain. Now, a person is declared dead when there is a permanent loss of brain function. It is organs from such a person that can be transplanted.

A team of doctors, involving a neurosurgeon, a government physician, consultant treating the patient and the medical director of the hospital, need to ascertain the condition of the brain at an interval of at least six hours and conduct all tests to find whether the damage to brain is irreversible.

Even if the individual, who had died, had not previously signed any document to donate his organs, the immediate relatives can decide whether they want to donate the organs of the departed person.

Usually accidents resulting in severe head injuries result in brain deaths. In the State, there were 3,000 deaths due to road accidents in 2004, the third largest number in the country. A person, when donating organs, can give new life to at least three persons.

SORT can be contacted for donating organs (heart, liver, two kidneys, two lungs, pancreas, intestine) to save the lives of people who die waiting for organs that never came to their rescue. A. Vasath Shenoy, Secretary SORT, can be contacted either at the Warriam Road office of the IMA (phone: 2361549 / 2354886) or over telephone at 9388632630 or 2539760.




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