By LURVIN FERNANDEZ, Daily Sun Staff Writer | Posted: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 8:00 am
It’s never too late to save a life.
Not only is it possible to become an organ donor after turning 50 years old, it is encouraged.
The National Institute on Aging recently has stepped up its efforts to encourage older adults to become organ donors.
Armando Paolino is among seniors in The Villages who already are willing to donate.
Paolino, of the Village of Woodbury, regularly donates blood and has been a registered organ donor for about 40 years. He makes sure his driver’s license notates that fact every time he renews it.
“I think it’s a good idea and a good thing to do for the community I live in,” Paolino said.
The benefit is multifold. Each registered organ donor has the ability to save or improve the lives of more than 50 people through organ, eye and tissue donations.
“By registering to be a donor, you give hope to the 121,000 people waiting, and make life possible,” said Hilary Czarda, senior communications and data coordinator for Donate Life America, a nonprofit organ donation advocacy group.
Contrary to popular belief, age does not affect someone’s chances of being a donor.
It is estimated that 20 to 30 percent of people older than the age of 50 believe they are too old to become an organ donor, according to Dr. Martin Mai, head of the kidney transplant practice at Mayo Clinic in Florida.
Age may lower someone’s chances of donating, but only because there is a higher possibility the person has disqualifying diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes. But even then, Mai said, they can donate tissue, which can help burn victims and in some cases restore a person’s sight.
Regardless of age, if a person is healthy at the time of death, his or her major internal organs can be used to save lives.
“One of the things we have noticed through experience and research is that people older than the age of 50 automatically disqualify themselves for organ donation,” said David Fleming, CEO of Donate Life Florida.
Even bad health does not necessarily disqualify someone from becoming a donor. Mai used the example of someone who drank heavily. While the heart and liver may not be useful, the rest of that person’s organs may be healthy enough to transplant.
Earlier this week, John Hopkins University was approved to perform the nation’s first HIV-positive to HIV-positive transplant. This new practice in organ transplantation will save or improve the lives of more than 1,000 people each year affected by HIV.
Fleming said it is best to leave the decision of what can and cannot be used to medical professionals, who make that decision at the time of death after a full medical evaluation.
Currently, 30 percent of registered organ donors are older than the age of 50, and that percentage is increasing despite misconceptions. According to Fleming, and the National Institute on Aging, that may partially be because seniors today generally are in better health.
“More people today are living healthier lives and know the importance of living and eating well and exercising,” NIA Deputy Director Marie A. Bernard said. “That means we’re in better shape than ever. We’re also able to be donors and recipients at later ages than anyone might have imagined.”
Donate Life would like to encourage everyone regardless of age, race, religion, sex or state of health to register, because it increases the number of lives saved.
Signing up is easy. It can be done online through the Donate Life website, through your local state registry or the next time you renew your driver’s license. Your organs will be donated at the time of your death.
There is no cost for the donation and no financial burden on the donor’s family, and the surgery is done with care, so the individual still can have an open casket funeral if desired. Other questions and concerns are answered on organdonor.gov.
To become a living donor, contact the nearest transplant center, according to the American Transplant Foundation. Donors may choose to be known or anonymous, but they do have to go through a series of tests and exams to ensure they are a match for the intended recipient.
A living donor also must take into consideration all medical, travel and lodging costs.
The oldest recorded organ donor in the nation was 94 years old, according to Donate Life America. And Villagers already know you’re never too old to make a difference in someone else’s life.
Lurvin Fernandez is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9062, orlurvin [dot] fernandez [at] thevillagesmedia [dot] com.