According to Giving USA's annual report on philanthropy, Americans donated $358.38 billion to charities in 2014. That is an enormous contribution -- and the highest in the 60 years that the publication has been recording donations. However, that giving spirit does not need to be expressed only through money. One of the greatest and most lasting contributions a person can make is to be an organ and tissue donor.
According to Erika Ospina Awad, the ambassadors coordinator for Donate Life, by being an organ and tissue donor, "one person can save up to eight lives and enhance the lives of 50 others."
Unfortunately, 22 people die each day because the organs that they need are not available in time. For instance, as of May, the average waiting time for a kidney is three to five years. And another person is added to the waitlist for organ or tissue donation every 10 minutes.
Luckily, you're never too old to give the gift of life. There have been successful liver transplants from donors in their 90s and cornea donations from people 100 years old. On the other end of the spectrum, there have also been successful donations from newborns. Of course, there are practical limits that vary based on the organ or tissue being donated, but there is no hard-and-fast rule on age limits. "Don't rule yourself out," says Tom Mone, CEO of the nonprofit organization OneLegacy, which is dedicated to saving lives through organ and tissue donation.
According to Donate Life, more than 121 million people are organ and tissue donors. Yet 120,000 men, women and children are still on the organ donation waitlist; more than 1,000 of these are 10 or younger.
"Share with your family members," stresses Mone. It is not easy to discuss your final wishes with your loved ones. But with that kind of impact available, it's time for some blunt talk. Though you might be a registered donor, your family members will still be asked for their consent. If you have not expressed your wishes clearly, then it is up to your next of kin to decide. And without knowing what to do, that person might give in to misinformation.
To address common misconceptions about organ donation, here are some fast facts:
--Your doctor will not give you inferior care if you are a donor. Doctors have no ties to transplantation. Instead, the United Network for Organ Sharing is in charge of the organ donation registry. Therefore, your doctor cannot decide to give your organs to someone.
--There is no cost to either the organ donor or the family members for donating.
--All major religions -- including Christianity, Judaism and Islam -- believe in organ donation.
--You can still have an open-casket viewing after donation.
--There are certain ethnic groups, such as Asian and Hispanic populations, that "have more people on the waitlist and less people in the population," according to Mone. Minorities make up 58 percent of patients on the waitlist.
--Every state has an organ donor registry. More information about your state can be found at organdonor.gov or at your local DMV.
There are year-round opportunities to educate others and be an ambassador for organ and tissue donation. In April, Donate Life set a record for the biggest assembly of organ transplant recipients in one location at one time at its yearly run/walk. Consider volunteering at local organ donation awareness events, requesting that donation centers give talks to your community groups or having one-on-one conversations with your friends and family to ensure they have all the facts.