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300 sign up to donate organs at death

By Sue-Ann Wayow sue-ann.wayow@trinidadexpress.com

TEN kidney transplants have been performed since 2006 using organs from deceased persons, and 300 citizens have signed up to donate their organs when they die.
The latest such kidney transplant took place earlier this week at the San Fernando General Hospital when two persons received one kidney each from a donor declared brain dead.
In addition, 103 kidney transplants have been done using organs from living donors during the same period.
In January 2006, the Ministry of Health’s National Organ Transplant Programme was launched under the National Organ Transplant Unit.
The unit is based at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex in Mt Hope. Medical director of the unit, Dr Leslie Roberts, said the last time a kidney transplant was done using the kidney from someone who died was last November at the Port of Spain General Hospital.
She said it was at that hospital that the majority of kidney transplants were done using the organs of the deceased.
Roberts said to date, 300 persons who have committed to being donors when they die.
However, she said there was a process to be followed before someone’s organs can be used by someone else.
And family consent was a must.
She said: “We want to encourage persons to become donors but we also want to encourage them to speak with their family members about it because if the family members do not give their consent, we cannot use the organs.”
The unit’s website states that recipients are “chosen through a matching system which selects and matches people based on compatibility criteria. This includes blood group, organ size, serology (status of fluids in the body including blood) urgency and waiting time. A person’s wealth cannot sway or impact the eventual decision”.
It also stated the decision to become an organ donor comes into effect only when all efforts by medical doctors to save a life have been exhausted and death is iminent “or has been declared according to specific medical and legal guidelines.”
Trinidad and Tobago is the only Caribbean country that has the appropriate legislation that allows transplants to be performed.
It is illegal to sell organs in the country and kidneys are the only organs that can be donated since many require kidney transplants.
Eventually the programme will be extended to include hearts, pancreas, lung and liver. But because of issues of space and specialised staff, concentration for the next two years will be mainly on the donation of kidneys, Roberts said.
The programme also facilitates cornea transplants. Corneas are tissues in the eye. Until an Eye Bank is established locally, corneal grafts have to be imported from the US and the operation is not readily available to everyone.
Roberts said the unit was in the process of “ actively pursuing” the establishment of the Eye Bank .
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