BY Liz ROACH RN BsN, director of professional education intermountain donor services
It could be tempting to think that the little “Y” in the organ, eye, and tissue donation box on Utah Driver Licenses doesn’t matter. As public servants and law enforcement professionals, you’ve got a lot on your mind when working at the scene of an accident, and your concern for the family of those injured, perhaps fatally, is paramount.
That’s as it should be. But when an accident victim doesn’t survive, we all have a responsibility to that individual to try to honor his or her wishes as documented on the Driver License and the Utah Donor Registry.
The Donor Registry was enacted by our Legislature in April 2003 to formally document drivers’ decisions about organ, eye, and tissue donation. It was intended to be, and is, legally binding first-person consent. We at Intermountain Donor Services are obligated to try to honor the intent of deceased individuals as documented on the Registry. This is why we have asked you to call IDS at the time of a highway death. We’re grateful to you all for your positive response to that request—we currently receive reports of deaths from officers and communication centers all over the state. There were a number of donations this year that were directly related to a law enforcement officer making that notification call to our center.
We are fortunate in this region to have wide-spread support for donation. Our Registry is considered to be the most successful in the country. Of all licensed drivers in Utah, 71% have said “yes” to donation—a huge number compared to other areas of the US. One of the reasons the Registry is so successful is that we have actively partnered with the Department of Public Safety, Driver License Division for many years. The Registry is designed to allow rapid and easy searches for donor information. When you call in a death at 1.800.833.6667, you will receive valid and secure information about a person’s documented choice about donation.
Why is it all important? We have waiting lists in our state for cornea transplants, the bit of donated eye tissue that allows certain blinding eye diseases to be cured. Many individuals who can donate nothing else because of the extent of their injuries are still able to donate corneas, giving someone else the gift of sight. In addition to corneas, some deceased donors are able to give portions of their bone, which is used in large quantities for surgical repair of all kinds of orthopedic, sports, and spine injuries. There is never enough bone tissue for all those whose medical conditions require it. In addition to corneas and bone, some donors are also able to give heart valves, some blood vessels, and perhaps even thin bits of skin. Donated skin goes directly to the Burn Trauma Unit at the University and is life-saving for burn victims.
I hope you see that the “Yes” on the Donor Registry or Driver License really matters. It matters to the people who wait for the tissue transplants that will improve or even save their lives. It matters that we all sensitively work with families at the time of an unexpected death. And it matters that we respect one another’s choices—including the one about organ, eye, and tissue donation.