The Kindest Cut
Nothin' says lovin' like an organ donation.
Thursday, April 9, 1998
Why throw away a perfectly good body when you can recycle it?
In an operating room at the Monterey County Coroner''s office in Salinas, the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center "harvests" body parts from the dead to be transplanted to those in need. Through this recycling program, known as a tissue bank, parts of Monterey County''s dearly departed live on in others.
"These tissues are used to enhance and restore the quality of life of others and can even save lives," says Dr. German Estrella, Jr., UCSF''s development coordinator.
According to UCSF figures, each year Americans receive more than 19,000 solid organ transplants and 450,000 tissue transplants. For the past four years, the UCSF tissue bank in Salinas has been a part of a 44-hospital system for the collection of such body parts as corneas, heart valves, veins and bones.
"On a yearly basis, Monterey County generates roughly 60-70 bone donors and 80 or 90 cornea donors," says Estrella, who goes on to say that all major hospitals in the county, plus the county coroner''s office, report potential donors to UCSF, which contacts the family of the deceased and "very gently" inquires about the possibility of a donation.
While this may sound a bit mercenary, rest assured, in Monterey County nothing is harvested without the consent of the family.
"While legally we can take it, we don''t," says Estrella. "Nothing happens without the family''s approval."
If the family approves, or the deceased made prior arrangements to donate organs, a team of medical technicians comes to Salinas and harvests the tissue in a standard surgical setting.
"It is basically an operating room," says Estrella. "We treat the decedent like any surgical patient."
Organ donation, like anything else associated with death, is often treated with a morbid suspicion. Tales abound of an organ "black market" where parts go to the highest bidder.
While such a black market may exist, it is illegal. Under the National Organ Transplant Act, it is a federal crime to sell organs, and can result in up to five years in prison.
Official organ/tissue donation, like UCSF''s program, is safe, legal and fair. "Organ donation is a good thing," says Estrella. "From one donor, approximately 50-75 people will benefit."
April 19-25 is National Organ Tissue Donation Awareness Week. For additional information, call the UCSF Tissue Bank at 800-444-2663.