The statistics are startling.
Every 10 minutes, someone is added to the waiting list for organ donation.
Each day, 18 people die waiting for an organ match.
Yet, 2.5 million people die every year in America of various causes. Can you imagine if every one of those people were organ donors?
There are a number of reasons why there’s such a huge gap between the need and the supply. There’s misinformation and there’s apathy. And then there’s just plain old denial. Many people don’t want to think about their own demise and what happens to them after they pass.
I get it. In fact, I’m a fairly typical example. I’m not at all religious, but I can be superstitious. Until recently, I wasn’t signed up to be an organ donor because to even speculate about the Grim Reaper felt somehow unlucky.
What made me change my mind was producing a story for “TechKnow” about the “heart in a box.” During filming, I met Sandra, a candidate for a heart transplant at UCLA Medical Center. Like many patients on the waiting lists for organ transplants, she had actually moved out-of-state to be under the care of a hospital with the right transplant program. Her son and daughter took turns travelling from their home in Las Vegas to spend days at a time by her bedside at UCLA medical center while she waited for a donor match. I was touched by her family’s devotion to her—and deeply saddened when Sandra passed away before a donor heart became available to her.
Sandra decided to share her personal story because she wanted to highlight the scarcity of organ donations. She expressed dismay at the low rates of donation from her own ethnic group—Hispanics—which is due to both socio-cultural and religious beliefs.
According to a study by the National Institute of Health, some Hispanics “hold an aversion to planning for events surrounding death" and even believe “by talking about death one may cause it to occur.” The Chinese have similar superstitions and, as a Chinese-American, this primitive belief had somehow wormed its way into me. But Sandra’s death and reporting on the very real life-and-death stakes faced by every transplant team forced me confront how flimsy my excuses were for not being a registered donor.
Then we filmed our segment about the “lungs in a box” technology, a follow-up to our piece with Sandra, and I met 69-year-old lung transplant candidate Victoria Bloomfield. I was inspired by her resilience and feisty attitude while grappling with a deadly disease. And it reinforced to me how important it is to get the word out about organ donation. Because as amazing as the surgeons who perform transplants are—and as incredible as the latest transplant technology is—nothing happens without the organ donor and the donor’s family’s compassion and generosity.
So when my driver’s license came up for renewal this past fall, I signed up to be an organ donor. I hope that when my time comes, my organs can help save the lives of others. In that respect, I guess I do believe in an afterlife: as a heart beating in another’s chest, as a pair of lungs breathing life into another’s body and so forth.