Donate Life Month: Saving Lives Through the Gift of Organ Donation

Friday, April 5, 2024

Each April, Donate Life Month brings extra awareness to the importance of organ, eye, and tissue donation, including the importance of registering the decision to be an organ donor and especially the impact and lives saved through the generosity of organ donation.

Here at UI Health, Donate Life Month is an opportunity for us to reflect on our proud history of championing organ donation and transplantation through our clinical activities, organizational partnerships, and community involvement.

“The UI Health Transplant Program is one of the oldest programs in Illinois,” said Dr. Enrico Benedetti, head of the Department of Surgery at UI Health. “Today it’s one of the largest programs in the Midwest, responsible for 308 kidney transplants last year.

A Focus on Living Organ Donation

Saving lives with transplantation relies on the gift of organ donation. On any given day, more than 100,000 individuals across the country are in need of an organ transplant, and a single organ donor can save up to eight lives, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

At UI Health, we place an emphasis on living organ donation for kidney and liver transplant. Even if someone currently is on the organ waitlist, they aren't guaranteed to receive the organ they need, but living donors have the opportunity to help a person in need of an organ transplant immediately.

“[Living donation] doesn’t make the process any more difficult. It actually streamlines the transplant process for our care team, donor, and recipient,” UI Health transplant coordinator Lisa Mariano said. “It allows us to control the timeline toward transplantation, and ultimately, restored health.”

The benefits of living organ donation also include:

  • Shorter wait time: Living donor transplants can take place much sooner and can be scheduled when it is convenient for the recipient and the donor.
  • Quicker recovery: Generally, living donor recipients recover faster than those with deceased donors.
  • Better function, quality: An organ from a living donor functions better and longer than deceased donor organs.
  • More lives saved: Living donor transplants allows recipients to be removed from the waitlist. This can help to possibly shorten the time for others still waiting on the waitlist and help increase the number transplants.
Raquel Regalado and her mother, Raquel Ramirez

Living Donation Success: Raquel (Rocky) Regalado, left, was a living liver donor for her mother, Raquel Ramirez. They had their donor/transplant surgeries at UI Health in March 2023. Read their story.

Spanish Language Kidney Transplant Clinic

Providing a diverse range of transplant options and advocating for organ donation are key parts of our mission to advance the health our communities and save lives. The Spanish Language Kidney Transplant Clinic at UI Health was created knowing how important it is for all patients and their loved ones to feel safe, informed, and confident about the transplant journey.

“One of the problems patients often encountered when they didn’t speak English, is that everything became overwhelming,” said Dr. Jorge Almario Alvarez, a physician surgeon at UI Health and a native Spanish speaker. “When I see patients in the Spanish Language Clinic, we’re going to speak Spanish about the surgery and about the process, and we will all have a better understanding of what will happen.”

Transplant Success = More Lives Saved

UI Health is also committed to expanding access for patients suffering from a wider variety of conditions that require organ transplantation. In 2023, UI Health performed the most simultaneous pancreas-kidney (SPK) transplants in the United States, according to data from the Organ Procurement & Transplantation Network (OTPN). Pancreas transplants are often a treatment for type 1 diabetes and uncontrolled insulin production, but nearly one in three adults with diabetes also develop chronic kidney disease (CKD). As a result, pancreas transplants are often done simultaneously with a kidney transplant in a combined procedure, and UI Health’s transplant volumes are reflective of our program’s expertise in this treatment offering.

Register to be an Organ Donor

Donate Life Month serves as a reminder of the ongoing need for organ donors. Anyone can be a potential donor — regardless of age, race, or medical history – and our care teams work side-by-side with donors to ensure they stay supported throughout the donation process.

UI Health proudly partners with the Gift of Hope organ- and tissue-donation network to raise awareness of organ donation and encourage new donor registrants throughout the year. Learn more and register today.