ing nearly 80 percent of the state based
on population and hospital locations. Gift
of Life Donor Program in Philadelphia
handles southern New Jersey.
There are 58 such OPOs nationwide,
all designated to work in tandem to coordinate organ and tissue recovery and
“We can recover a kidney in New Jersey and send it out to California, if that’s
where the perfect match is,” says Jackie
Lue Raia, assistant director of resource
development for the Sharing Network.
“We are literally saving and enhancing
lives every day.”
TODAY, ABOUT 120,000 people are waiting for life-saving organ transplants
nationwide. In New Jersey alone, about
5,000 lives are on hold awaiting donations. Every 2 ½ days, a person in New
Jersey dies while on the waiting list.
Although 2. 5 million people are registered donors in New Jersey, less than
1 percent of all imminent deaths in the
state qualify for organ donation.
“We have between 200 and 400 poten-
tial organ donors in New Jersey every year
out of an average 75,000 deaths in New
Jersey,” says Oscar Colón, a clinical dona-
tion specialist who has been working at the
Sharing Network for over 20 years. “That’s
how rare and unique organ donation is.”
Most who qualify to donate organs
have not been terminally ill; instead, they
are individuals who have suffered an un-
expected trauma—a car accident, a stroke,
an aneurism or a fall—often resulting in
When traumatic injury occurs, the
victim may be unresponsive, but in some
cases their organs continue to function
until they are reached by emergency personnel or placed on a ventilator in the hospital. The patient must be on a ventilator
or their organs must continue to function
properly on their own to be a candidate
for donation. If blood circulation halts, the
organs begin to deteriorate and transplantation is no longer possible. Certain health
conditions also may disqualify some patients from giving the gift of life.
When someone registers as a donor, he
or she is entered into a database that can
be accessed nationally. Registering acts as
a legal record of that individual’s wish to
donate. Those who meet all of the criteria
can donate up to eight organs and various
tissues (see diagram, page 78).
When you register as an organ donor in New Jersey—often done when renewing a driver’s license—you are immediately entered into a database that can be
Registering means you are signing what is called a legal document of gift,
a;rming your wish to donate organs and tissue should anything happen to you.
One person can save up to nine lives through organ donation and benefit the
lives of more than 50 individuals through tissue donation.
Once registered, only you can revoke your authorization to donate, and
your choice supersedes that of your loved ones if their wishes happen to di;er.
However, if you are not registered, or are too young to register (you must be 18
years or older; 14 or older with parental consent online) the decision to donate
is placed in the hands of your loved ones. This life-giving option is often turned
down by family members because of myths associated with donation—the same
myths that keep people from registering in the first place.
Oscar Colón, a clinical donation specialist with the Sharing Network, says
a major mission of the organization is to educate people about the reality of
organ and tissue donation. Here are some of the common myths that the organization works to dispel:
MYTH: Doctors and emergency per-
sonnel will give up on saving the life
of a registered donor.
REALITY: For all health personnel, the
first impulse is to save a life. “They’re
not going to stand there and look at
your license to see if you’re an organ
donor or not,” says Colón.
In fact, the Sharing Network is the
only organization that can determine a
patient’s suitability for organ donation—
and they are not called in to make that
decision unless the prognosis is grave
and doctors have determined there is
no chance of recovery, that death is
imminent, or that the patient has died.
MYTH: Organ donation is against my
REALITY: Colón says it is untrue that
most major religions oppose organ and
tissue donation. “All major religions
endorse donation as the ultimate sacrifice,” he says. Most religions, he adds,
“leave it up to a personal decision.”
The Sharing Network website has
a section dedicated to explaining
the views of nearly every religion in
regards to donation.
M Y TH: My departed loved one will
be disfigured during the recovery of
REALIT Y: Organ and tissue donation
is a surgical procedure, “done in a very
sterile technique with certified and
licensed personnel,” says Colón. Even
when long bones are procured, recon-
structive surgery is done so families
can still have an open casket if desired.
Additionally, the Sharing Network has
close relationships with funeral homes
across their coverage area to accommodate the requests of mourning families.
MYTH: I’m too old or too ill to donate
REALITY: There is no upper age limit
for donation. Fitness for donation is
“based on how physically fit that person is and how the organs are functioning,” says Colón. “Same goes for tissue.” In fact, the Sharing Network has
procured organs from newborns all the
way up to senior citizens.
Additionally, while certain health
conditions or parameters may limit
what organs and tissue can be procured, Colón says people should not
rule themselves out because of an illness. “Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are
not rule-outs—you can transplant to
people who already have the virus,” he
says. “Or maybe there’s a patient with
a history of hypertension, there’s still a
possibility their liver could be donated,
or the lungs. So when we do an assessment, it’s a thorough assessment to
determine which organs are suitable
for transmit.” —Breanne McCarthy
Find out more, visit NJSharingNetwork.org.
When you register as an organ donor