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The myths and facts about donating organs

Dr. William Chapman, surgical director of Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center
Alex Heuer
St. Louis Public Radio

April is National Donate Life Month, a time to remember the importance of organ and tissue donation, as more than 123,000 people are currently awaiting organ transplants in the United States.

“We have a large transplant center here. We’re pretty fortunate in the Midwest that we have strong donation rates,” said Dr. William Chapman, surgical director at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center, who joined “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Tuesday.

The first organ donation occurred in 1954 and technological advances since have greatly increased the success and number of transplants.

“The need is way greater than the number of donors we have,” Chapman said. “Our waiting list is growing faster than our donation list.”

About 15,000 kidney transplants are performed in the United States every year and it is the most common transplant. Other solid organ transplants include liver, heart, lung and pancreas.

The Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center was founded in 1985. Among other transplants, the hospital is particularly advanced in performing lung transplants, 70-75 a year.

Dr. Chapman acknowledged transplants are expensive but that costs are going down because of streamlined patient care and the ability to use generic drugs.  “A kidney transplant is expensive but dialysis is way more expensive,” he said.

Despite an increase in the awareness of organ donations, myths persist:

Myth One: I signed the back of my driver’s license so I don’t need to tell anyone that I want to be an organ donor.

Fact: “Signing your driver’s license is nice but you really need to do more,” Chapman said. “Let your family know.”

“If the family doesn’t know the issues of the individual, it can be very difficult to proceed with donation.” Chapman added that it’s also important to sign up on the Organ and Tissue Donor Registry in Missouri or Illinois.

Myth Two: Only hearts, livers and kidneys can be transplanted.

Fact: Hearts, livers and kidneys can be transplanted. However, other organs such as the pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines can be donated. Tissue donations include eyes, skin, bone, valves and tendons.

Myth Three: I am too old or too sick to become an organ and tissue donor.

Fact: “Donors at any age may be suitable,” Chapman said. “We have found that older donors in their late 70s or even 80s can be an acceptable liver donor.”

For additional information or to begin a kidney transplant evaluation call 1-800-633-9906 or visit the Barnes-Jewish website.

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.