Organ donors are always needed with more than 112,000 people nationwide and close to 5,000 in New Jersey waiting for transplants. Jessica Melore, programs manager at the NJ Sharing Network and a heart transplant recipient, wants more people to consider becoming an organ donor. She sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss the donation process, her own experiences and some possible misconceptions about transplants.
Melore said 18 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. “What I always say to people is imagine you needed a lifesaving organ or imagine someone in your family needed one,” she said. “You’d hope there was someone out there who had made that decision.”
Finding a match for potential organ transplant recipients is based on a complex algorithm that varies by organ. The United Network for Organ Sharing maintains the national list. Melore said organs are often allocated by region, depending on how long an organ can be sustained. Blood type, antigen tissue matching, how long the potential recipient has been waiting and how sick he or she is also play a role.
Melore shared her personal story of organ transplantation. She underwent a heart transplant after suffering a heart attack at age 16, which she said is extremely rare. “One night I was at a restaurant and I started to feel dizzy and lightheaded. When that subsided, I felt pressure pains going from my chest to my neck and heaviness in my arms,” she said. “I assumed it was an allergic reaction to the food. It turns out it was a massive heart attack.”
Doctors implanted a then-experimental heart assist device in Melore’s abdomen to keep her alive. She waited nine months for a heart transplant. She says she is one of the lucky ones.
“So many of my friends in the hospital died because they didn’t receive an organ in time,” she said. “Or by the time they finally received one, they were too sick to be able to sustain it.”
Melore said she hopes more people consider organ donation, which can be easily done through the drivers license.
“I think what people don’t often conceptualize is that organ donation is not about death. It’s about life,” she said. “It’s about taking what could just be a tragic situation and have something positive come out of it.”
Melore met the family of her donor and said the donation gives them comfort knowing their loved one is living on in some way.
Some may fear that their level of care will diminish if they become an organ donor, but Melore said that’s not true.
“I think one of the biggest myths out there is people think that the doctors won’t try as hard to save their lives if they’re eligible to be a donor,” she said. “But the exact opposite is true because you have to be in really good condition in order to be a donor.”
Melore explained that in most cases the donor must die in a hospital. She also said the team that works to save the patient’s life is completely separate from the transplant team. “The transplant team isn’t even called in until every effort has been made to save your life,” she said.