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April is organ and tissue donor awareness month. There are nearly 2,300 people in Maryland who are on the waiting list for an organ or tissue transplant, says Karen Kennedy, director of clinical services at the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland. These patients are waiting for all kinds of organs, including a heart, lung, kidney and pancreas.

What kinds of transplants are most frequently in demand?

The majority of those waiting are waiting for a kidney, and that is true both locally and throughout the United States.

Why are kidneys so needed?

It is a result of the serious side effects of high blood pressure, which is prevalent in our society, and the consequences of diabetes, which can lead to kidney failure. The largest percentage of those waiting for a transplant are waiting due to those two diseases.

What kinds of organs can be donated?

Both organs and tissues can be donated. The organs that can be donated include heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas. The range of tissue that can be donated is very broad, so I will mention some examples: corneal [eye] tissue, skin donations to help burn patients, bone donations and other forms of soft tissues to help patients who have traumatic injuries or sports injuries.

How does one donate organs or tissue?

There are many ways to make your wish known. You can put it on your driver's license. If you choose to put that you are an organ donor on your license, that is a general organ donation -- meaning that it doesn't specify what organ.

What if you want to specify a particular organ for donation?

This year, Maryland has established a donor registry through which you can specify what organs you want to donate. The registry is private. You get a password, and only those organizations authorized to facilitate donations in this state have access to the registry. There are three such facilities: the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland, Washington Regional Transplant Community and the Medical Eye Bank of Maryland.

What do you tell people who come to you and ask about organ donations?

That the gift is an altruistic gift, at no cost to the donors. All major religions are supportive of organ donations. We urge that people seek out their religious leaders to sit and discuss their questions. And I tell people that it is important to make an informed decision. It is important to think about it and document your decision and tell your family.

How is it decided who receives the organ?

There is a very complicated allocation system. When there is a person who donates an organ in the state of Maryland, in most cases, patients waiting in Maryland are given priority.

How many people in Maryland receive organ donations?

Last year in Maryland alone, more than 500 patients received a life-saving gift of an organ. It is great to hear stories such as: 'I got to go to my son's wedding,' or 'I got to see my grandchild,' all because of an organ donation.


Read more about organ donation and the organ donation registry at baltsun.com/expertadvice

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