Survey Says Gift of Life Gets High Marks from Organ Donor Families

New York, NY
October 30, 2000

If someone in your family died tragically tomorrow, would you know how he or she felt about organ donation? According to a new National Kidney Foundation survey of 500 families who have already been faced with this exact crisis, most people do not have signed donor cards. Despite the fact that 56% of those “donor families” surveyed said they had discussed organ donation prior to the death of their loved one, 65% said there was no donor card indicating their loved one’s wishes.

“It’s like making out a will,” says John Davis, National Kidney Foundation CEO. “Everyone procrastinates when it comes to activities that make us face our own mortality. People aren’t so comfortable discussing it and they have a hard time taking the action step of signing a card.”

Despite what seems like initial resistance to the whole idea, when faced with this real-life situation, 66% of those surveyed said they donated the organs because they felt it was the “right thing to do” and 95% of families say all members were in agreement about the decision to donate the loved one’s organs or tissues.

Following donation, 91% of families say that organ donation was a positive experience, in most cases because they “felt good knowing the loved one’s death wasn’t a waste” and they also “felt good to help someone else.”

According to Patty DeRosa, mother of 13-year-old Katie who died in a car crash and then donated six organs, “My daughter had a love of life and it is the beauty of her shared life that gives us all hope and helps my family to continue. We prayed for a miracle but our miracle was that Katie was to be a miracle to others. Katie had always told us she wanted to make a difference in the world. No one could have foreseen how she could change so many lives.”

While meetings among donor families and the recipients of their loved one’s organs are not commonplace, they are occurring more and more, with mostly positive results. Of those surveyed, 91% had communicated by letter with one or more of the recipients of their loved one’s organs and 40% had had face-to-face meetings. Of those who communicated, 90% felt it was a positive experience, citing as primary reasons that it helped them feel they’d “given the gift of life” and it “offered a sense of contentment and comfort.”

The DeRosas have communicated by letter and phone with Katie’s liver recipient and have met her heart recipient in person, who, says Patty, is “a wonderful man,” adding, “I hope and pray that his will be a life filled with good health. Looking at him, I know that the love of a person never dies.”

The organ donation evidently hits home in a big way. A high 85% of survey respondents from donor families have designated themselves as organ donors. When compared with the 62% of the general population who have considered becoming donors and the 50% who have either signed a donor card or discussed this decision with family, it is clear that the previous donation has a huge impact on family members’ attitudes and behavior.

Says Davis, “Our challenge now is to spread the word of the positive impact organ donation has on families and also to promote communication among family members so that discussions about donation happen prior to a tragedy striking. We must encourage people to take the action step of signing their donor cards so that all family members and physicians are fully aware of a person’s feelings on the issue.”

The National Kidney Foundation is dedicated to preventing kidney and urinary tract diseases, improving the health and well-being of those affected by these diseases and increasing the availability of all organs for transplantation. For a free organ donor card call the foundation at (800) 622-9010.