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Archive for December, 2011

The Ultimate Gift – Organ Donation

This column first appeared
in the Syracuse Post Standard
December 20, 2011

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I live in Central New York State, where we are grieving the loss of 17-year-old Taylor Fleming who died in a car accident last week.

In the face of their unimaginable heartbreak and pain, Taylor’s parents decided to donate her organs and tissues, knowing that at least something good could come of her death. They realized their loss, and Taylor’s donation, will help others by extending their lives, or improving the quality of their lives.

Taylor’s eyes will provide sight to someone who has been blind. Her skin will help a burn victim heal. Her lungs may help someone with cystic fibrosis or COPD.  Her heart, kidneys and liver will restore lives. Sixty transplants from Taylor’s body are already benefitting others.

Like Taylor’s parents did on her behalf, we can make the choice to donate our own organs and tissues when the time comes, too – whether we die through tragedy, or from natural causes.

Sadly, despite knowing that tens of thousands across the country are waiting for transplants, too few people consider themselves eligible to donate. You may believe you can’t be a donor, but you are probably wrong.

For example, some people think their religions preclude organ donation.  But no major American religions restrict donation, including Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Some people believe that if they are chronically or terminally ill, they can’t or shouldn’t donate.  But that is also a myth. Your donation may not take place directly to an individual, but your contribution to medical research may ultimately improve thousands or millions of lives.

There are three important steps for you to take if you decide to donate your organs or tissues.  First, sign the organ donor statement on the back of your driver’s license while someone else watches you.  Second, check to see if your state has an organ donation registry (we have such a registry in New York) and sign up to ensure your wishes will be carried out.

Finally, and perhaps most important – discuss your wishes with your family.  Whether or not you can actually donate when the time comes can be decided by the professionals when it happens.  Understanding your wishes will allow your family to have the conversation.

We never know when tragedy will strike.  But we can honor those who have been lost by making the commitment to donate our own organs and tissues upon death.

Learn more about donating your organs, tissues or body so you, too, can give the gift of life.

Note: a reader has reminded me of another excellent gift:  Registering for the Bet the Match bone marrow registry, too.  Learn more.

Here are some additional resources for
end of life choices:

End of Life Decision-Making : The Ultimate in Patient Empowerment

Start an End of Life Wishes Conversation

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Check Out Those Health Charities Before You Donate

This column first appeared
in the Syracuse Post Standard
December 6, 2011

It’s that time of year again.  The holidays, of course. But also the end of the tax year, when charities, including groups like cancer societies or hospital foundations, are pleading for donations.

Each year in December my husband and I make contributions to the charities we think are important, many of which are health-related.  Last year money was tight, and we knew we would either have to cut back on how much we donated, or leave some organizations off our list.

To help us make those difficult decisions, I did some background research on each of the charities we ordinarily support. I was surprised at what I found!  And learned some tips to share with you, too.

First, I learned that when children need specialized cancer treatment, they will get the same treatment  whether they live in Paris, Tokyo, Sydney – or Syracuse. Pediatric oncologists worldwide share their research and successes to the benefit of children everywhere.

I had to ask myself – why would we send a contribution to a children’s hospital out of state?  Since children receive the same specialized treatments, doesn’t it make more sense to donate in our own backyards?  I’m sure those famous children’s hospitals provide excellent care.  But if my child was sick, and I had to stay with her in a city far away, how would I get to work?  Where would I stay?  Bottom line – we decided to donate to our local children’s hospital, knowing local kids would get the great care they need.

Next up – family interests. Within my husband’s family or mine, we have loved ones who have dealt with Alzheimer’s, diabetes, lymphoma and breast cancer.  We have always donated to those very large, national charitable foundations, thinking our money was going toward education, research, and of course, a cure.

Not so fast! It turns out that not all charitable foundations are equal – including those we’ve sent money to each year.  I discovered that some charities are actually quite questionable. For example, too much of their money goes toward “undetermined” administrative costs. Or worse, only a small percentage of their budget goes toward their stated goals of education, patient support or research.  One very well known charity is spending the bulk of its donations on legal fees, suing smaller charities!

Based on that information, we decided against supporting two of the organizations we’ve sent money to for years.

As a result of this process, I realized that if more of us were choosier about our donations, health-related or not, the most effective and efficient organizations would have more funds to really make progress with their missions – a benefit for everyone.

You may want to review your charity choices, too, to be sure your donations have the best chance of accomplishing the goals you think are important.

Here are some additional resources for
choosing the best charities for your donor dollars:

How to Donate Money to Health and Disease Charities

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Want More Patient Empowerment?
Find Hundreds of Articles at:

Every Patient’s Advocate

About.com Patient Empowerment

…and…
sign up for 2x per month newsletters of
Patient Empowerment Tips