Our Chief Executive Simon Gillespie explains why we urgently need more organ donors.
Donating an organ is one of the most inspiring and altruistic things a person can do. It is often the gift of life to someone who is critically ill and might otherwise have just weeks or months left to live. It can give families in their darkest hour, the opportunity to turn their tragedy into hope.
For people who are suffering with end-stage heart failure – when medication is no longer an effective option - a heart transplant is their only hope of long-term survival. They depend upon people signing up to be a donor and having that all-important conversation with their loved ones about their wishes if tragedy strikes them.
Currently there are 269 desperately ill people depending on that generosity, who were actively waiting for a new heart or a heart and lung transplant in the UK. Thirty-four of those were under 18.
But the real demand is likely to be much higher, as many who could benefit from a transplant sadly never make the waiting list, or die waiting. On average, three people die every day in the UK because they did not receive an organ in time. This is a heartbreak no family should have to bear.
Organ donation is vital to helping people who have no other option for survival. Nine out of ten of us in the UK say we support organ donation and yet only around three in ten of us have joined the donor register.
National Transplant Week (7-13 July) is the perfect opportunity to sign up and put that good intention into action. Becoming an organ donor is a remarkable undertaking and can benefit the lives of not just one patient, but up to nine people in need of urgent care.
As the nation’s heart charity, the British Heart Foundation is committed to increasing the rate of organ donation, but raising awareness is not enough. The demand for organs continues to outstrip availability and this problem isn’t going away.
We must take a fresh approach and push for a change in the law to speed up what can be an agonising wait for patients who urgently need a transplant. Changing the law to implement a soft “opt-out” system could prove to be the difference between life and death for so many people and we need to take that progressive step. This would mean everyone would automatically become an organ donor unless they chose not to be, encouraging families to talk more openly about this pressing issue and what their wishes are.
Wales has already taken the lead on this life-saving change, giving a greater chance to the hundreds of people hoping against hope for a new heart. Other UK Governments must follow suit if we are to try and save thousands more lives in all our four nations.
Until then you can help. If you have it in your heart to become a donor and have always had it in your mind to sign up, use this opportunity to register today and give someone in need the gift of life.