Gift of life: Facts, myths and the how-tos of organ donation

Dustin Cuzick (April 1983-July 2019) waited years for an organ that never came. He was a passionate advocate for organ donation, and in his honor, we wanted to clear up some of the most common myths and misconceptions about becoming a donor.
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(KKTV) - As most 11 News know, longtime reporter Dustin Cuzick passed away on July 11 at the age of 36.

Cuzick battled end-stage kidney disease beginning in his early 30s, a complication stemming from juvenile diabetes. At the time of his death, he had been on an organ transplant waiting list for more than two years.

For his family and friends, the idea that he wouldn't get the life-saving organ seemed impossible. Tragically, he became a statistic:

20 people die each day waiting for a transplant
At the time of his death, Cuzick was one of more than 113,000 on the national transplant waiting list. The need for organs far outweighs the number available. According to data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), in 2017, 115,000 people were on the waiting list. The number of available donors: 16,473. Adding to that urgency: the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) says only 3 in 1,000 people die in a way that allows for organ donation.

Cuzick came close a couple of times, including a phone call at the end of June telling him he may have a match. That donation ultimately went to another, equally urgent recipient, and Cuzick passed away 12 days later.

Why are there relatively few donors?
Some people may not think about it. Others may not know how to sign up. And still others may have heard misinformation about the process. Here are some common myths about organ donation:

People with medical conditions can't be donors
One person can potentially donate up to eight organs, according to HRSA. Meaning, even if you have an illness that compromises some organs, you may still be able to donate other organs. Despite his need for a new kidney and pancreas, Cuzick signed up to be an organ donor himself, and at the time of his death, doctors believed they would be able to pass certain organs to someone else. Sign up and let the transplant team decide after you die.

I'm too old
The oldest donor in the United States to date was 93 years old. (Source: HRSA)

Doctors aren't going to work as hard to save my life if they know I'm a donor
According to Penn Medicine, this is the leading reason people say they won't sign up to be a donor. It's also a myth. Doctors will do everything to save your life first. Organ donation is only considered when all life-saving measures have failed.

On that same vein, what about coma patients?
A patient will not be considered for organ donation until they are declared brain dead. Even after that, it is up to the family to decide to remove their loved ones from life support.

My family won't be able to have an open casket at my funeral
An open casket is possible for most donors, according to donation professionals.

My religion might frown on it
Roman Catholicism, Islam, most branches of Judaism and most Protestant denominations support organ donation. (Source: Penn Medicine)

My family will be left with the costs
It does not cost your family a single cent for you to donate. Costs of organ removal go to the transplant recipient.

Now that those misconceptions are out of the way, how does one sign up to be a donor?
There are two registries: state and national. For your state registry, all it takes is a simple check on a form at the DMV or by signing up online here.

To put your name on the national registry, click here.

According to Donate Life America, both of these registries are checked by donation professionals at the time of a donor's death. The most recent donor registration will be the one honored.

Another option: Living donation
A living donor is a person who donates an organ while still living. Organs that can be donated by a living person include a kidney, lung, or a portion of the liver, pancreas, or intestine. More information on becoming a living donor can be found here.

One deceased donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and even more lives through tissue donation. (Source: American Transplant Foundation)