Organ donation is an opportunity - rather than a sacrifice - to give another person a second chance at life.

With medical advances today, many people need not die because of a serious disease where an organ or tissue needs replacement. The problem, however, is that there are only a few people willing to donate their organs to save a life.

Take the case of Filipinos suffering from chronic kidney disease. Tens of thousands are on dialysis for CKD. But less than 500 undergo transplants every year, largely due to lack of organ donors.

In 2015, 18,603 new patients started dialysis treatment, and by December of that year, a total of 32,077 patients were on dialysis. But only 3.4 percent (475) received a kidney transplant, based on Philippine Renal Disease Registry statistics.

Transplants not only result in the survival of a patient, but it helps improve the quality of their lives post-surgery. The consensus among kidney specialists is that transplantation is the final and best hope for patients with End Stage Renal Disease, and dialysis is merely a bridge until a transplant can be performed.

The challenge now is how to encourage more people to help save lives through organ donation.

Thus was born a new advocacy campaign called REGALO (Filipino word for gift), which stands for REnal Gift Allowing Life for Others. Its primary aim is to close the huge gap between available kidneys and patients in need of them.

Ultimate gift

At 19, Gabrielle Gabaton developed kidney failure due to glomerulonephritis. Four months after transplantation, the Ateneo De Manila University management engineering student joined the REGALO campaign launch on June 22 to testify about her hardships and ultimate victory as one who suffered kidney disease.

Prior to her transplant, she spent months going through dialysis sessions but never stopped attending class. Neither did she take a leave of absence. Instead, she had hemodialysis sessions at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) late in the evening to the wee hours of the morning.

Her parents always accompanied her during these sessions, and their family even spent Christmas and New Year with her at the dialysis centre. Eventually, her father Jumel donated his kidney to Gabrielle, and will always be fulfilled knowing he had saved his daughter’s life.

A veteran broadcaster, Joe Taruc was a chain smoker consuming two packs of cigarettes a day. He knows his abusive lifestyle resulted in his becoming ill, which necessitated a transplant to survive.

Five years and 3 months ago, he underwent a transplant and now continues to host a radio programme, where he is able to refer indigent patients with ESRD to the NKTI. He has likewise become an advocate of a healthy lifestyle and stressed that prevention is always better than cure.

Says NKTI Executive Director Dr Rose Marie Rosete-Liquete, “Kidney transplantation is the best form of renal replacement therapy. Patients who receive a kidney transplant become fully rehabilitated and have optimal quality of life and the highest survival rate.”

The transplant surgeon also allayed fears about organ donation. “Donating one kidney and living with one kidney generally does not affect life expectancy and quality of life. More importantly, kidney donors help save lives.”

Being an organ donor is an opportunity to save a life.

Being an organ donor is an opportunity to save a life.

How to be a donor

Being an organ donor is simple. To signify intent of donating one’s organs, an individual simply has to sign up for an organ donor card, which must be carried at all times in a place that can easily be found in one’s person.

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, herself a card-bearing organ donor, said the donor must indicate which organ or organs he is donating in case of death. This is vital information to help medical workers, when the time comes to extract organs for donation.

Signifying intent to be an organ donor does not end with getting a card. It is equally important for an individual to inform his or her family of the decision to be an organ donor. This is because consent must be given by the next of kin before a donation can actually be made.

Another way of helping save a life is through a live organ donation, especially for family members or friends who may be a suitable match.

No to organ sale

There is a law, however, that prohibits giving organs for a fee. And this is a practice frowned upon by advocates of organ transplantation, including medical professionals, organ donors and recipients.

Republic Act 9208, or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, includes a provision that strictly prohibits organ trafficking, particularly the sale of human organs. Among the penalties is a fine ranging from 1 to 2 million pesos.

Launching the REGALO advocacy is likewise a means to boost the cadaver programme, which has seen little success due to the Filipinos’ hesitancy to remove parts from a loved one’s remains even in death.

Measure of life

In encouraging people to become organ donors, Secretary Ubial stressed the importance of giving. “The measure of life is its donation. Given how many people today are afflicted with kidney diseases, signifying our willingness to donate a kidney will go a long way,” she said.

For her part, she decided to become an organ donor because “it is my belief and advocacy that when we die, we have no use for our organs so why will we deprive those who have a need for it, when it can provide a new lease on life for another.”

“Every day, people die waiting for a suitable organ donor. The selfless act of organ donation can save lives. Let us all work together to raise awareness and encourage more Filipinos to give of themselves by signing up to be an organ donor,” said Dr Enrique Ona, former Secretary of Health, and now president and chairman of the Maria Corazon Torres Y Javier Foundation (MCTJF) and the Kidney Foundation of the Philippines (KFP), respectively.

Handbooks to guide would be kidney donors and recipients have been released in the Filipino language

Handbooks to guide would be kidney donors and recipients have been released in the Filipino language

Meanwhile, as part of the advocacy campaign launch, handbooks for kidney donors and recipients in Filipino were released. These were authored by the NKTI’s Department of Adult Nephrology and Department of Organ Transplantation.

The handbook for recipients contains guidelines on diet, exercise, monitoring and follow-ups with the transplant team. The handbook for donors discusses the benefits of organ donation.

The advocacy campaign launch is a joint undertaking of MCTJF, KFP, the Kidney Transplant Association of the Philippines, Novartis Healthcare Philippines, DOH and the NKTI. MIMS

Read more:

The state of kidney disease in the Philippines: Preventable, treatable, but lacking in donors
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