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The ultimate gift



More than 1,600 people in Wisconsin — and some 111,500 nationwide — are waiting for an organ transplant. You can help by registering as a donor-upon-death at:

More than half of age-eligible Wisconsinites either have an orange organ donor sticker on their driver’s license or have registered online, notes Jay Campbell of BloodCenter of Wisconsin. Online registration is legally binding. Donation advocates note that it allows donation to go forward if the driver’s license cannot be located, or if a family member can’t or won’t give consent.

The website’s FAQ pages discuss age and health eligibility, religious practices, how donation affects funerals, and how donated organs, tissue and eyes are used. The site also lists websites related to blood, bone marrow and other types of living donation.

A Group Effort

While just three hospitals in the Milwaukee area are transplant centers, 45 hospitals in eastern Wisconsin work with the Wisconsin Donor Network.

When a hospital in its 12-county service area has a patient who potentially could become an organ donor, the network dispatches a medical team to evaluate the case. For instance, last year the network was notified 306 times regarding patients at Columbia St. Mary’s Ozaukee.

The Wisconsin Donor Network team also includes specially trained staff, mostly former intensive care nurses, who meet with the patient’s family.

"We offer them the opportunity to realize one small good thing that can come from this, to save other lives," says Jay Campbell, vice president of organ and tissue donation for BloodCenter of Wisconsin, which runs the Wisconsin Donor Network.

Nearly 80 percent of families who are approached agree to have their dying loved ones become donors, one of the best rates in the country.

Local hospitals’ success has repeatedly been recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; last year, Waukesha Memorial was one of eight nationwide recipients of HHS’s top award for increasing organ donation rates.

On average nationwide, only 1 to 2 percent of all deaths could result in organ donation.

Since 1988, more than 3,600 deceased Wisconsinites have been organ donors. Last year, 542 transplants from deceased donors were performed in Wisconsin. Eight of every 10 organs donated in southeastern Wisconsin stay in the state.

It takes at least 10 hours (and as long as 48 hours) for the nationally regulated matching process and for organs to be removed from the donor and taken to the hospital where the recipient patient is located. Locally, only Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Froedtert and St. Luke’s Medical Center are transplant centers.

Experts note that one donor’s organs can save the lives of up to nine people, because the liver can be split for two recipients. One case last year at Wheaton Franciscan – St. Joseph, for example, resulted in the donation of the heart, liver and both kidneys.