Sept. 10, 2001 – Inspired by Mark Marin's donation of his eyes, heart, lungs and kidneys, Sen. Lorraine Berry is seeking to establish an organ donor identification card in honor of the former Antilles School headmaster, who died on July 25.
Berry's initiative is to amend the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act in the V.I. Code to establish the Mark C. Marin Organ Donor Identification Card and authorize its issuance to individuals who have made a determination to donate all or parts of their body upon death.
Marin's gift helped to save and enhance the lives of several people — and, by extension, the families and loved ones of the patients who received his organs. Had he not discussed his desire to be an organ donor with family members, his wish might not have been carried out. There is a small window of opportunity, time wise, to "harvest" organs from donors and make them available to be transplanted into recipients.
Although an organ donor card indicates the donor's wishes, family members are always asked to provide consent before donation can occur, according to Kim Tirrell, clinical care coordinator at the Roy L. Schneider Hospital. "That's why it is very important to make your wishes known to family and friends," she said.
A patient must be declared brain dead — a state of irreversible cessation of all functions of the brain — in order to be considered a candidate for donation.
Tirrell, who helps coordinate the hospital's organ donation program, reports all deaths and suspected brain deaths to Life Link, the organ procurement agency in Puerto Rico assigned to the Virgin Islands. When a suspected brain death occurs, Life Link representatives will travel to the territory to confirm it and to discuss the possibility of organ donation with the patient's family.
"We don't have a lot of patients who meet these criteria," Tirrell said. Since the beginning of this year, there have been just two opportunities for organ donation in the Virgin Islands, she said. In both cases, family members did not consent to donation. (Marin died after being transported to Florida for medical care.)
While "families are totally within their right to decline," Tirrell said, she feels there needs to be more public awareness about the benefits of organ donation. "Sometimes organ donation can help grieving families feel that their loved one hasn't died in vain," she noted.
She explained that organs are removed surgically so as not to disfigure the body, something which is often of concern to family members.
According to information posted on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services web site, about 5,500 people die each year in the United States while waiting for an organ to be donated. The web site states, "Each day, about 60 people receive an organ transplant, but another 15 on the waiting list die because not enough organs are available."
The site also notes there is a great need for minorities to be organ donors. Some diseases are found more frequently in racial and ethnic minority populations than in the general population. Tirrell said the majority of people in the Virgin Islands awaiting organ transplants suffer from kidney diseases.
According to the Health and Human Services web site, "Successful transplantation often is enhanced by the matching of organs between members of the same ethnic and racial group. For example, any patient is less likely to reject a kidney if it is donated by an individual who is genetically similar. Generally, people are genetically more similar to people of their own ethnicity or race than to people of other races. Therefore, a shortage of organs donated by minorities can contribute to death and longer waiting periods for transplants for minorities."
Tirrell hopes that greater awareness in the community will encourage more opportunities for organ donation. Schneider Hospital is looking for a spokesperson to help educate the public about organ donation, she said.
The language of Berry's amendment bill as drafted specifies that prospective organ donors must make their wishes clear in a "will." However, a member of her staff indicated that this need not necessarily mean a formal, written will — something few young people have, for example; it could be any written statement that a person makes.
The current law clearly states that "a gift of all or part of the body may also be made by a document other than a will. The document, which may be a card designed to be carried on the person, must be signed by the donor in the presence of two witnesses who must sign the document in his presence."
Nowadays, many states allow individuals to indicate their willingness to be organ donors on their drivers' licenses.


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