Like any loving family man, Donald Preece of Old Saybrook hoped to leave his wife and grown children with warm memories of spending time together cruising around Long Island Sound on his boat and enjoying Sunday picnics. He was proud to eventually leave the successful business he had spent a lifetime building to his son. But when Preece died in November of last year with a heart weakened severely by two consecutive heart attacks, he never would have imagined his legacy would also include donation. He was able to become a tissue donor at the age of 70 with his skin and corneas dramatically improving the lives of the recipients. LifeChoice Donor Services wants everyone to know there is no age limit to organ donation and people can donate tissue well into their 70s.
“A person’s potential to help others through donation, regardless of age, will be determined at the time of death. People in their 70s have donated vital organs that have been successfully transplanted. No matter what your age, be sure to inform loved ones of your decision to be a donor so that they may honor your final wish to help others,” says Caitlyn Bernabucci, Public Education Specialist for LifeChoice Donor Services.
Ann Preece, Don’s wife of nearly 50 years, made the decision to donate his corneas knowing how devastated Don was by his brother Dick’s traumatic accident eight years earlier that left Dick permanently blind. Don was always hoping for a cure for Dick; so even though Dick could not regain his sight, Ann felt it was so special that someone would be benefiting from her husband’s gift.
“Don did not discuss organ donation much. I think he thought after his heart attacks, he would not be a good candidate. I have already expressed to my children my desire to be an organ donor. I was totally unaware that people my age can still be a viable candidate for organ donation,” said Ann.
Bernabucci knows Ann’s misconception of an age restriction for organ donation is shared by many people. Many also mistakenly believe that the serious health problems they have developed as they age eliminate them as a donor.
“Very few medical illnesses absolutely rule people out for donation,” adds Bernabucci “Even if you have had diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, certain types of cancer, or even hepatitis you may still be able to donate. Organ procurement organizations carefully consider all potential for donation after death.”
The need for older donors grows as our population ages. According to www.organdonor.gov, two thirds of the approximate 118,000 individuals waiting for an organ transplant in 2012 were 50 years old or older. Yet that year, only 2,250 deceased donors were between 50–64 years of age and a mere five hundred and seventy-four deceased donors were 65 or older.
In the case of cornea transplants, age is particularly important. Whenever possible, eye banks try to place the cornea with a patient that is close in age to the donor to help ensure that the cornea will last throughout the patient’s lifetime. Cornea donation is necessary for the preservation and restoration of sight. That’s because the cornea is the clear dome-like window covering the front of the eye that allows the light to pass through to the retina, which enables us to see. Corneas are evaluated for transplant by cell count and clarity of the tissue.
More than 46,000 corneas were transplanted in 2012.
One tissue donor can enhance or save the lives of more than 50 people. Unlike organs, tissue can be processed and stored for an extended period of time for use in burn cases, ligament and heart valve repair, and bone replacement to save limbs. Corneas can prevent or cure blindness. (American Association of Tissue Banks, 2010).
Each year, tissue is provided by approximately 30,000 tissue donors.
“This was my first experience with organ donation. I know for myself and my children it was so comforting and heartening that someone received Don’s corneas. I would positively advocate that families seriously consider organ donation. If one person can be a recipient of their loved ones gift- what a selfless, loving gesture, knowing that a part of their loved one is living on,” concludes Ann.
Today, close to 120,000 people are on the national organ transplant waiting list. Largely due to the rarity of donation opportunities, only about 28,000 organs are transplanted each year. As a result, 18 candidates die each day for lack of a donor.
LifeChoice Donor Services, Inc. is the federally designated, non-profit organ procurement organization (OPO) for six counties in Connecticut and three counties in Western Massachusetts with a combined population of 2.2 million people. The OPO serves twenty-three acute care hospitals for organ and tissue donation and two organ transplant hospitals, Hartford Hospital in Hartford, CT and Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA.
LifeChoice Donor Services is a member in good standing of the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) and the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (AOPO). For more information about LifeChoice and to join the Donor Registry, please visit www.lifechoiceopo.org or call 1.800.874.5215.