Why I Chose To Become An Organ Donor


I’ve always wanted to do something good. By that, I do in actual fact mean really good… but then, I suppose most people do.

It doesn’t mean I dream of changing the world during my lifetime (though that would be nice, wouldn’t it?) or that the life I have been given is worth more than anyone else’s.

You see, my dreams and ambitions are often just as individual or self-ambitious as the next person’s but occasionally I stop and think: “Isn’t there something more I could personally be doing to make this world a slightly better place?”

Since I was fifteen, I’ve wanted to donate blood… It’s something I could do and because my health is good by most standards, maybe it’s something I should be doing… But I confess, I’m a little afraid of something going wrong. One small mistake and I fear I could end up with a blood disease or something potentially life-threatening.

It’s foolish but it’s a small fear and it holds me back even to this day. So as I grew older, I thought there must be something else I could one day do to help change someone else’s life.

A few years ago, I pored over a lengthy Cape Times feature on organ donations and the procedures involved. I recall how, after that, at the age of eighteen, the seed of selflessness began to grow in my mind… Though perhaps I should say that even then I had my own personal reasons for considering it, as I think most donors do.

You see, most people would willingly donate blood or even an organ to help a loved one (though I don’t know many who would pull a My Sister’s Keeper… Though that film is certainly impactful and I suggest you watch it. Be warned though: it’s a real tear-jerker.) I mean, if your sister or father’s life depended on it, wouldn’t you? I know I would if the need arose and I could do it.

Sometimes though our willingness to perform a loving, selfless act isn’t enough… and yes, even if the donation is a success and the organ is a perfect match, so to speak, it isn’t always enough to save that needy life. It’s a sad but true fact and for many families, it is a heart-breaking reality.

Sometimes, the receiving body rejects the organ after a while. Sometimes it happens almost instantly – and, yet other times, a donation from a total stranger brings the gift of life, of prolongation.

I digress though and I shouldn’t. I’m not an expert on this subject and I don’t pretend to be. I’m writing from the heart and my own personal experience or opinion… I hope that’s good enough. (My apologies in advance if it is not.)

On the 9th October, exactly a day after we received my mum’s cancer test results (they were clear for now… but the months of ‘hurry up-and-wait’ were hell. I don’t remember much of September or even early October because I was living my days in a fearful daze), I went to my university’s main Cape Town campus, to go do some work on one of our rare, lecture-free days in the PC lab and as I approached the library, I saw one of those small canvas tents, with an accompanying, stand positioned just outside the main campus facilities.

This is no unusual sight. There are often stands on campus for students to join with or simply to get promotional information on certain organisations. Often, they represent worthy causes or interesting social groups but none that I have encountered have ever been quite as worthy as the one on this particular day – at least, not to me personally.

I mentioned my mum is a cancer survivor but I neglected to add that her organs have been damaged quite extensively by the very same cancer treatment, which has thus far saved her life since 2006, and, if ever she should require an organ transplant, there is quite a considerable waiting list…

In light of the agonising and stressful wait for her test results, perhaps it struck a chord with me more than it might have under other circumstances. Maybe the fact that a close friend’s loved one was suffering from chronic kidney problems and had been hospitalised for weeks on end since August – with no real hope of recovery, barring a miracle (and we’re sadly short on those these days) – was also a poignant reminder to me then of the fact that life is short and for some, an act of kindness from a stranger or loved one alike can literally save a life.

Maybe I only let the friendly and quietly beseeching Organ Donor Foundation (ODF) volunteers approach me and hand me all the necessary informative pamphlets and registration form + brochure because I felt I couldn’t say no.

Or maybe, just maybe… I felt I could do something good and turning them away or walking off and promising to return later without doing so would have been impossible.

I could have passed into the safety of the library’s depths and found a rubbish bin in which to promptly dump the handouts I had just been given… I don’t think that would have made me an evil, heartless person purely by default.

I also could have read the pamphlets and decided it wasn’t for me. Alive or dead, I want all my organs.

Well, to hell with that… I may need them now but if push came to shove and someone I loved needed one more than I, I wouldn’t hesitate to go through with the procedure as a living organ donor and when I’m dead and gone, buried six foot under… I hope someone else can make good use of at least a few of my vital or secondary organs. I won’t need them… but my hopes are that someone else might.

If I can give someone their mother back or keep a young, desperate couple’s baby boy alive through my own death, whether it be the result of natural causes, old age or it is tragically unexpected and untimely, then I would gladly do so.

So, I went and sat down with my fellow queuing students, waiting for available PCs, and to pass the time, I absorbedly began to read over the pamphlets, as I had promised the volunteers I would at least do.

It can’t have taken me more than five minutes max. Five minutes to possibly change a life is one thing… but to change seven (or even fifty), one would imagine it would take so much more time and consideration than that… wouldn’t you?

After all, it’s a pretty life-changing decision… You fill out a simple form and it’s a terribly easy and unobtrusive act but, at the same time, it carries a certain heaviness. This is your ‘life’ your signing over… your organs.

A small, selfish part of my mind queried, “Isn’t this a bit extreme, Tamlyn? Is this some spur of the moment thing that you’ll regret half an hour later? Is this an act of generosity or just an indulgent guilt-trip you’re on here?”

Yes, I considered the pros and cons quite seriously in those short five minutes and a small part of me then (and sometimes even now) still wonders if I did the right thing for myself and my body – but even so, I got up and politely bothered the security staff for a black pen before hurriedly filling in the registration form in my hastiest (and thus messiest) scrawl.


Then, I carefully separated the registration form from the main ODF brochure (I was really nervous then but more because I suck at tearing things off than anything else…) and tentatively walked back out to warm volunteers.

I hasten to add that the registration form (“it’s really quick to register and it costs nothing”, as the ruddy brochure promises) is quite basic and, as forms go, unfussy.

It doesn’t require any hectic personal details, really. I vaguely remember writing out my full name, physical address (and possibly postal address), email address (they email you the official card, which is a more polished duplicate of the one you’ll receive from the volunteers, so fill this in clearly) contact number, identity number and finally, at least two next of kin*.

* (Note: You also need to supply their contact numbers so make sure whoever you place there would be willing and able to assist in this regard or wouldn’t mind being contacted.)

Most importantly, though, you tick which and what you are willing to donate. I clearly remember having the option of ‘organ donor’ and ’tissue donor’. You can tick both if you feel comfortable doing so and the best part of all? You can change your mind and alter your choices at any time.

You can even deregister and dispose of the cards, stickers… Nothing is forced and nothing need be permanent if you suddenly get cold feet or your own life circumstances change etc.

Before I elaborate any further on my personal decision to become an organ donor and why I did it in the end, I would like to give some useful info. and quick facts as set out on my ODF brochure.

Brief dscription of the Organ Donor Foundation/ODF’s role: “…to educate and inform the public about organ donation and the urgent need for people to register as organ donors.”

Furthermore, ODF is “an awareness organisation and is not involved with the procurement or allocation of organs or any medically related processes.”

Who can be an organ/tissue donor? Any person, who is in good health, and is clear of defined chronic diseases that might adversely affect the recipient will be considered as a possible donor.

[For my part, I asked whether I was required to undergo any immediate health tests and unless you are signing up to be a blood donor, the answer, for the present, is no (unless of course you have a chronic disease you’re aware of at the time) and yes, tests will need to be run if you are called on to be a donor during or after your time on this earth… but, as they say, that’s something to worry about in the future.]

Can I be a donor if I have an existing medical condition?
Having a medical condition does not necessarily prevent a person from becoming an organ donor. The decision about what organs will be transplanted will be established at the time of your death.

Which organs can be transplanted?
Your heart, liver and pancreas can save three lives and your kidneys and lungs can help up to four people. You can save seven lives.

[Whilst I am fine with donating any of the other organs, I personally wouldn’t donate my heart… Perhaps that’s a selfish thing to say but somehow, I feel the heart, my heart, is too innately and fiercely personal. It’s kept me alive, this old ticker of mine and gotten me this far, with its unique joys and griefs alike on an emotional level and somehow, as a result, I feel it’s my God-given gift to keep… Though I know and hope others will feel differently.]

Which tissues can be transplanted?
You can help up to 50 people by donating your corneas, skin, bone and heart valves.

[Again, as I said, you can, however, choose which organs/tissue not to donate. Just make your family aware of your choices.]

Is there any cost involved in signing up as an organ/tissue donor?
No. It costs nothing to sign up as an organ donor.

[As I mentioned earlier…]

Does my family pay for the cost of donation?
No. The hospital or state will cover all medical expenses from the moment of diagnosis of brain death and when your family has given consent for the removal of organs/tissue.

[For me, this was a huge relief… My performing a good deed upon the time of my death or perhaps even before should not be a financial burden to my family or loved ones. Also, it is vitally important that you discuss your decision with your next of kin… Yes, it is your body and you’re free to do with it as you please but they need to know about it and be able to deal with it and ultimately, provide the necessary consent in order to ensure the fulfilment of your wish.

Remember, too, that it may come as a shock to them and they may need time to accept or even process your decision… It is, after all, a life-changing one and as such, should not be treated lightly. I must rather ashamedly confess in light of this that I have, up until now, told only my best friend of my decision, though granted, I did it immediately after I registered… It’s time that changed, though I’m still not too sure how to broach the subject.]

Can I donate an organ/tissue while I am alive?
Yes, in some cases. Live donations, such as a kidney, are often done between family members, because the blood groups and tissue types are more compatible to ensure a high success rate.

[Though I know of instances where total strangers were both the recipient and donor.]

How do doctors know I am really dead?
Two doctors, who are completely independent of the transplant team, have to perform detailed tests before a person can be declared brain dead. The criteria for brain death are very strictly adhered to and accepted medically, legally and ethically in South Africa and internationally.

[Organs/tissue must be removed “as soon as possible after brain death in order to ensure a sucessful transplantation.”]

Does being a donor delay the funeral?
No. As soon as the donated organs/tissue has been removed, the body is returned to the family to bury or cremate.

[Also, the donations in no way disfigure the body as the “utmost respect and dignity is given to the donor at all times.” It is carried out by trained surgeons and staff in a professional and caring way.]

Are there religious objections to transplantation?
Most religions support organ and tissue donation, as it is consistent with life preservation. If you are unsure, you should talk to your spiritual leader.

[Until I read that, this was personally quite a big cause for hesitation with me… Honestly, I’m still not a hundred percent sure if it is permitted within the context of my religion/faith of Christianity, but I think this is one that should be between My Creator and me anyway and as such, I’m no longer uneasy about it on that score.]

Finally (though you can access additional information online), you are free to change your mind at any time, provided you inform your family. Also, be sure to tear up your organ donor card and remove any bright red-and-white stickers from your I.D. or driver’s licence.


Right, so after I had filled in my form and returned to the stand, I was literally made to feel like a champion by the available friendly volunteers, who gratefully and enthusiastically received my registration form back and in turn, presented me with my very own organ donor card (which I carefully filled in and placed in my card holder once I got back to my flat) and accompanying stickers.

These you can place in your I.D. book or driver’s licence etc. (One of my stickers has pride of place in my I.D. book now and I have two spare ones left)

The ODF volunteers, whom I am grateful to, not only congratulated and thanked me most emphatically but they also asked if they could hug me and take a picture of me with my card and brochure. I’m not a fan of photos taken out of the blue like that but their enthusiasm was infectious and I really didn’t have a need or reason to decline.

After that, I thanked them in return and headed home, my previously planned ‘work’ quietly forgotten as more important thoughts drifted through my mind…

Maybe I didn’t change the world that day but I changed myself – and only for the better.

It feels good to know that I can leave a real lasting and living legacy someday when I go… and because I, much like so many of you out there, wish to impart some goodness into the world before my time is spent, through this, I know I can at least hope to do that.

It wasn’t an insanely selfless act… It wasn’t a really brave step or even a particularly lifechanging decision at the end of the day, not when you compare it to the deeds that others perform each and every single day right across the globe, but it was my act, my step and above all, my decision and that is something quite special to me, I can tell you that.

In May this year, I joked, as I so often do (why I am not sure, I don’t have any insatiable deathwish that I’m aware of) that I will die young to a good friend and in reply, he said to me: “Nah, you must do some good (in the world) first.” I think he was saying it rather casually in response to my rather foolish and selfish ‘joke’ but that simple sentence made me fall silent for a moment and reflect all the same…

I realised then, as I so often have both now and in the past, that I do want to do some good in this world…

I like to think my writing or even my amateur photography will change someone’s life, if only just for a minute or whilst they have their morning coffee but in this small act… I know there’s a chance that I well and truly can.

I could say I did this for my loved ones, who might someday need an organ/tissue transplant or that I did this for myself in case I ever need one and because I hope someone would be willing to do the same for me.

Or even that I did this for all those desperate people on that seeming endless waiting list or for anyone who suffers from a life-crippling or chronic disease, for all those, like my friend’s adopted family member/loved one, who have perished because their own bodies and vital organs could no longer sustain them.

I could say I did it for any number of brave and noble reasons… but I didn’t.

I did it because I want to do some good in this world and even if I one day change my mind, for now, and hopefully for as long as I live (because I don’t want to change my mind on this… not truly. Not even when the thought of it scares me a little), I have.

I’m a rather flawed human, stitched together like so many others with good intentions, and I want to do something good with the life I was given, whether I live to be 30 or a 100… Nothing more, nothing less.

I know I can’t change the world – but maybe I can change the world for someone else.

That is why I chose to become an organ and though I do wish there was a more admirable or better reason, for me, this one is plenty good enough…

For more information on ODF and donations, please contact them on Toll Free 0800 22 66 11 or at The Organ Donor Foundation, P.O. Box 2349, Cape Town, 8000 or see their website: http://www.odf.org.za.

Many thanks to the Organ Donor Foundation brochure, email (which happily confirmed my registration and sent me additional relevant information earlier this month) and the ODF volunteers who encouraged me to make this most worthwhile and lifechanging of decisions. 🙂

Posted from WordPress for Android by T.A.Ryan


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s