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Save a life? The choice is yours
7:00am Saturday 14th July 2012 in Health
Blood and organ donors are desperately needed, and in the approach to National Transplant Week (July 9-15), NHS Blood and Transplant experts talk about the latest push is to get people to join the NHS Organ Donor Register and pass on the message to family and friends, and why more blood donors are needed before the Olympics.
By Lisa Salmon.
The ticklist of essentials for most of us in the final weeks before London 2012 will include snacks and a well-stocked beer fridge. But for the team at NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), supplies of blood are top priority.
Ahead of the Olympics, they need to boost blood stocks by 30% above usual levels to help deal with the estimated 1.2 million people and 15,000 athletes expected to visit London later this month.
Donating blood is seen by most as a good, selfless act - yet only 4% of the population actually do it.
Likewise, nearly everyone in the UK believes the gift of life through organ donation is the right thing to do - yet less than a third of people are on the Organ Donor Register.
But with National Transplant Week starting on July 9, there's a huge push to recruit more organ donors and more blood donors.
Killer shortfall While 96% of people are in favour of organ donation, only 30% have actually joined the NHS Organ Donor Register - and many who've signed up haven't bothered to tell their loved ones they've done so.
Plenty of those who aren't on the register but would still like to donate also haven't told their family and friends their wishes, adding up to a huge shortfall in would-be donors.
Around 7,600 people are on the UK transplant list and it's estimated that as many as 10,000 people need a transplant every year, but a thousand of them - that's three a day - will die waiting because there aren't enough organs available.
And although more than 90% of families will agree to donation if a loved one is registered and has discussed their wishes, this drops to 40% if donation wishes aren't known.
Pass it on Such a needless reason for non-donation is why the theme for this year's National Transplant Week is Pass it On, focusing not just on signing up to the Organ Donor Register but also the importance of people passing on their donation wishes to family and friends.
Anthony Clarkson, assistant director of organ donation at NHSBT, says: "We know that the vast majority of people support organ donation, but only a third of people have got round to signing up on the register, probably because they're very busy and they think they're not going to die yet so they've got a bit of time."
He says that people talking about their donation wishes is almost as important as signing up to the register, and stresses: "Pass the organ donation message on to your family so they know your wishes, and pass it on to your friends, so they'll sign up too.
"It takes no time at all - do it now. You could be giving someone a second chance at life."
Needless deaths Consultant transplant surgeon Professor Christopher Watson, president of the British Transplantation Society, says that less than half of the people who need a transplant in the next year will get one because of the shortage of organ donors.
"Many will die while waiting," he stresses, pointing out that one in four patients waiting for a lung transplant, and one in five awaiting a liver or heart, will die before getting the transplant they need.
He emphasises that many people die who could have been organ donors, pointing out: "They've not thought about it, or not shared their wishes, either by talking to their relatives or by signing on the organ donor register.
"Donation saves lives, dying does not. Think about it, talk about it, tell someone about it."
Prof Watson says National Transplant Week is about celebrating the gift that organ donors make, and their families' courage.
"In the middle of their own tragedy, they're able to think of others, to give a stranger a chance of life, something their loved one has just been denied," he says.
"Their only comfort is the thought that some good has come out of their own loss."
Olympic blood Unlike most organ donors, blood donors don't have to die to donate - yet 96% of the population still don't do it.
But now could be the time to start donating, as part of an Olympic effort to boost blood stocks by 30% before the Games start in London.
The call to arms is particularly important as the increased demands on stocks brought by the many visitors to London is expected to be compounded by low numbers of regular donors coming forward because of the disruption and distraction of the Games.
All blood types are needed, but there is a particular requirement for O- donors, as the blood types of those visiting London may not be known, and if they need a transfusion O- blood is most likely to be used as this type can be transfused into any patient regardless of their own blood type.
NHSBT spokesperson Jon Latham points out that during last month's Diamond Jubilee celebrations demand for type O- blood was 69% higher than the number of donations.
But only 7% of the eligible population have O- blood, and just 139,000 of them are donors.
"We're appealing to this elite group of blood donors to help us prepare for the unprecedented demand expected around the Olympics to make sure our health services have the essential stocks they need," he says.
Every pint or unit of blood donated can save up to three lives, and one such life was that of BBC Sport presenter Gary Lineker's son George, who had leukaemia as a young child.
Former England football striker Lineker and other celebrities, including Olympic gold medallist ice skater Jayne Torvill, are supporting the campaign to boost blood stocks.
Lineker says: "My son wouldn't be here today if it weren't for a blood transfusion, so I understand first hand what a difference your donation can make. If you don't know your blood type, find out by making a date to donate."
Organ donation facts :: A person can donate a heart, lungs, two kidneys, pancreas, liver, small bowel and two corneas, plus bone and tissue such as skin, heart valves and tendons.
:: Only around 3,000 people a year die in circumstances that mean their organs may be suitable for donation - ie in a hospital intensive care unit or emergency department.
:: Organs need transplanting as quickly as possible - a heart within four hours and kidneys within 24 hours.
:: Organs from people in their 70s and 80s are transplanted successfully.
:: The oldest solid organ donor ever recorded in the UK was 85.
:: The oldest recorded cornea donor was 104.
Blood donation facts :: Donating blood usually takes less than an hour and is virtually painless.
:: A unit of blood is 470ml, or just under a pint.
:: A regular supply of blood is vital as red cells last only 35 days and platelets only seven days.
:: Female whole blood donors can give blood every 16 weeks and males can give blood every 12 weeks.
:: There are four main blood groups - O, A, B and AB. Group O is the most common and therefore the most in demand.
:: To join the organ donor register, visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk or call 0300 123 2323. To find your nearest blood donor session, visit www.blood.co.uk (England and North Wales), www.welsh-blood.org.uk (South Wales), www.scotblood.co.uk (Scotland) or www.nibts.org (Northern Ireland)