Many of us have daydreamt about being superheroes such as Wonder Woman or Catwoman. But being a true hero doesn’t require comic-book-perfect hair, a lethal body or superhuman strength – all you have to do is sign up to become an organ donor. And it couldn’t be easier: taking five minutes to register is a small price to pay for a one-way ticket to superherodom.
A CHANGE OF HEART
The young man whose heart 23-year-old Melanie Gird received saved her life along with those of four others. Gird, a graphic-design student at North-West University in Potchefstroom, doesn’t know her donor’s name but she’s forever indebted to the 19-year-old from the Western Cape who died in a car accident.
‘His organs changed 20 people’s lives and saved five, and we’ll all remember him as the man who gave us the greatest gift of all – the gift of life,’ says Gird. ‘His selfless act has also helped his parents, who are finding a greater sense of acceptance of his death knowing he helped so many people.’
Both Gird and her 17-year-old brother, Trevor, suffered from a rare heart disease. ‘I was only 13 when I was diagnosed and I thought my life was over,’ Gird says. ‘I just wanted a normal life but doubt clouded every day because I was never sure whether I would wake up the next day.’
On 5 January last year she received her new heart during a nine-hour operation, and this year Trevor also got a new heart.
‘I have a new life and it’s all thanks to my donor and his family,’ she says. ‘People must donate their organs because it’s the right thing to do and it’s the easiest way to be a real hero!’
‘Anyone who is under 70 years old with no sign of illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, hepatitis, HIV/Aids or any infectious disease may be an organ donor,’ says Philippa Douglas, executive director of the Organ Donor Foundation. ‘Other medical conditions don’t necessarily prevent you from becoming an organ donor. Extensive medical tests are carried out at the time of your death and the decision about what organs will be transplanted will be established then.’
And there’s no need for you to have nightmares about having your organs harvested while you’re still alive – you have to be certified braindead before any harvesting takes place. ‘All potential donors must first be certified braindead by tests and then permission will need to be obtained from family members before harvesting,’ says Douglas. You also don’t have to worry that your body will be left disfigured. ‘The utmost respect and dignity is given to the donor at all times,’ she says. ‘The recovery of organs and tissue is carried out with great care by surgeons and trained staff, and the process doesn’t change the way the body looks.’
HOW TO BECOME A DONOR
‘There are currently more than 3 500 people awaiting an organ or tissue transplant in South Africa,’ says Philippa Douglas, executive director of the Organ Donor Foundation (ODF). The sooner you register to become a donor the better, because there’s no knowing when your time will be up.
Here’s how it works:
1 Phone the ODF’s toll-free line on 0800 226 611 or register online at www.odf.org.za.
2 You’ll be sent an organ-donor card to carry in your purse, and organ-donor stickers for your ID book and driver’s licence.
3 Inform your family of your wish, because your organs can’t be procured for transplantation without consent from your next of kin.
If you change your mind, all you need to do is call the ODF, tear up your donor card, remove the stickers from your ID book and driver’s licence and, most importantly, tell your family of your decision not to be an organ donor any longer.
Register to become an organ donor now.