TRENTON — In recognition of Feb. 14 as National Donor Day, Health and Senior Services Commissioner Dr. Poonam Alaigh today encouraged New Jersey residents to register to become organ and tissue donors and make a commitment to give the gift of life to people in need of blood transfusions or organ and tissue transplants.
National Donor Day calls attention to the critical need for life-saving donations and the variety of ways that people can become donors. Valentines Day has been designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as an ideal time to raise awareness of the tens of thousands of people on waiting lists for organ transplants and bone marrow and other tissue transplants.
“Blood donations and successful organ or tissue transplants can cure diseases and save lives,” said Alaigh. “When people become donors, they make a pledge that benefits not only the individuals who receive the donations, but the families of those recipients and ultimately their friends, neighbors and coworkers as they resume their daily lives.”
Through advances in medicine, organ and tissue donations have become a standard, successful treatment for many diseases and conditions. One donor can save or improve the lives of as many as 50 people.
Approximately 28,000 people get transplants in the U.S. every year. Over half of all organ transplants performed in this country are kidney transplants, about a quarter are liver transplants, with the other organs such as pancreas, heart, lung and intestine making up the remaining number.
Blood and bone marrow are among the tissue donations that are in constant demand: blood for treating injuries, cancer, diseases such as hemophilia, and for use during surgeries; bone marrow for treatment of cancers, sickle cell anemia and other immune system and genetic disorders. Other life-saving tissue donations include skin, heart valves, bone, ligaments, veins and arteries.
However, the demand for organ and tissue donation vastly exceeds the number of donations. The need for donors is great and growing every day.
- According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, 110,000 people in the United States are currently waiting for organ transplants – including 3,140 New Jersey residents. Every 11 minutes another person is added to the waiting list, and an average of 18 people die every day due to a lack of available organs for transplant.
- Approximately 35,000 children and adults in this country have life-threatening blood diseases that could be treated by a bone marrow/blood stem cell or cord blood transplant, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- The American Red Cross states that every two seconds someone in America needs blood. In New Jersey, blood collection efforts have been hampered by the severe winter weather which has contributed to the state’s chronic blood shortage. Over the past 15 years the state consistently used more blood than it collected and has had to import from other states.
The need for organ and tissue donations and the shortage of donors affects people of all ethnic backgrounds. However, minority groups are disproportionately affected. The need for organ donation is greatest among African Americans and Hispanics because they have higher rates of hypertension, diabetes and obesity – diseases which more often require organ transplants.
Currently, 53 percent of organ recipients are minorities, but only 15 percent are donors.
New Jersey needs blood donations from all ethnic and racial groups. However, some blood types, such as B positive, are more prevalent in certain ethnic and racial groups and these are often in short supply. Some African Americans have rare blood types like U negative or Duffy negative, which are rarely found in other ethnic groups.
There are a number of Registries where people can join to become donors. The New Jersey Motor Vehicles Commission helps drivers to register as organ and tissue donors online at www.state.nj.us/mvc/Licenses/organ_donor.htm or at their local agencies.
People interested in bone marrow and blood stem cell donation can register through the Be The Match Registry at www.marrow.org. To become a blood donor visit www.njsave3lives.com for a calendar of public blood drives and a list of local blood centers or contact the blood center nearest you.
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