Donate an organ, save a life

Pierre was diagnosed with renal failure two years ago and since then she has been enduring dialysis treatments at least three days a week to stay alive. If she does not get treatment, she will die.

Patients usually require dialysis when the kidneys lack the ability to cleanse the body of waste products. The waste products in the body become so high that patients become sick.

Many people do not even realise they have the illness until their condition deteriorates, as in the case of Pierre.

Pierre, a storyteller/teacher who uses storytelling as a tool to educate children regionally, was completely ignorant of the illness. Her only knowledge of renal failure was that people living with HIV/AIDS succumb to the illness.

“Before I was diagnosed with the illness, I associated it with AIDS. I never knew exactly what renal failure was. In fact, in 2006, when they told me that my kidneys had failed, I wanted to know how I contracted AIDS.

“I broke down, trying to figure out how I was going to deal with it. Eventually, they told me that they would put my name on a list for dialysis. I knew the list was long. They told me once they found a slot for me for treatment, the cost would have been subsidised by the government.

“I worried about finding the funds to pay for treatment. Then they told me I had to talk to a social worker to determine my financial situation,” Pierre explained.

The number of people needing a transplant continues to rise faster than the number of donors. Right now, there are approximately 500 people in TT in need of kidney transplants and the number grows by 40 each year. A very large number of people die each year waiting for a transplant.

For those who need dialysis treatment and are not fortunate to get it for free, the cost is overwhelming. In some cases a patient pays $1,000 a day for treatment. The life saving treatment can cost a patient up to $3000 —$4,000 a week.

Eventually, Pierre was signed up with the National Organ Transplant Unit, at Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, where she receives free dialysis treatment for four hours, three days a week. However, there is only one thing that stands between the hard working mother and living a long fruitful life - she desperately needs an organ donor.

A window of opportunity opened when Pierre’s father offered to donate his kidney, in a bid to save her life. However, all hopes were dashed when he got ill.

Since then, Pierre has been faced with a significant amount of resistance in her attempts to persuade people to register as organ donors.

Another patient anxiously awaiting a kidney transplant is Kabaka La Touche. In 1993, his mother died of renal failure. In 2000, his brother also died of renal failure. In 2001, at the age of 22, La Touche was diagnosed with the illness.

La Touche is holding on to one hope - that he will soon find a donor.

“Years ago when my mom was diagnosed with the disease I watched her die. We didn’t know much about the illness then. At the time, treatment was expensive and we didn’t have any money and there weren’t many dialysis machines in Trinidad.

“It was only when they felt sorry for her they would put her on the machine for free. Sometimes I would go and talk to the doctor for her, and then they would help out, but my mother had no other alternative to combat the illness,” explained La Touche.

“My brother died two weeks after being diagnosed with the illness. There wasn’t any hope for him either.”

Though the chances were slim for La Touche’s mother and younger brother, he knows that in his case, there is a rainbow behind the dark cloud. La Touche is one of hundreds of people benefiting from free dialysis treatment at the National Kidney Transplant Foundation at Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex. The machine is their only hope, until someone willingly donates their kidney.

Thus far, there have been numerous success stories of people undergoing free organ transplants locally. This gives La Touche hope; however, he believes people are not educated enough about the illness and its treatment.

“If people knew the number of lives they would save by donating their organs, a lot of lives would not be lost,” he said.

Three days a week, La Touche is hooked up to the machine that keeps him alive.

“Dialysis does for me only three times a week, what my kidneys should have been doing every single day”.

La Touche, found out about his illness quite by accident, after visiting the doctor for treatment for a flu. Some routine tests, including a renal biopsy, showed that La Touche had protein in his urine, one of the signs that a patient has the dreaded condition.

La Touche, who works with the Ministry of Science and Technology, said he receives a lot of support from his superiors.

“A lot of employers do not understand the illness. I am quite fortunate that my supervisor understands that I need time off for treatment. When I am weak, I get the necessary time off,” he said. La Touche even convinced his supervisor to become an organ donor.

For La Touche, the equation is simple. He can die if he doesn’t get dialysis. He can die if he doesn’t get a kidney transplant.

“Dialysis should not be used to sustain a person’s life. It should be used as a procedure until you get a donor. However, in Trinidad we use dialysis as a form of survival.”

There are no age limits on who can donate. Newborns as well as senior citizens can be organ donors. If a person is under age 18, they will require a parent’s or guardian’s consent. A person 18 years or older can become an organ and tissue donor by signing a national organ donor card.

As an organ donor you have agreed to give life to someone else by donating your body’s organs when you die, either by natural cause or in a tragic accident.

As an organ donor, you will be giving part of yourself to help someone who needs an organ transplant and, in doing so, you will be giving them the chance to live longer and to lead a full life.

There is no charge to either the organ donor or recipient under the Ministry of Health’s National Organ Transplant Programme. Interested persons can join National Organ Transplant Registry by calling 66-DONOR.

Last year, the National Organ Transplant Unit, in collaboration with the North West Regional Health Authority, embarked on a nationwide sensitisation campaign to introduce the subject of organ and tissue donation to the public. To date, the Organ Transplant Unit has successfully performed more than 11 free kidney transplants.

National Kidney Day was celebrated on March 13. Pierre, La Touche and countless others are waiting for that once in a lifetime opportunity – a good Samaritan to save their lives.

“We are not just sitting waiting for people to die. We need to mention the word dialysis more. There are a lot of people out there who don’t know what that means,” said Pierre, who is putting her energy into raising awareness for renal failure.


"Donate an organ, save a life"

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