Infographic: One organ donor can save seven lives

Dirk Human and his daughter, Surien.

“My father’s heart function is currently less than 10%. So the matter is becoming really urgent. They told us that we need to keep our travel bags ready, in case they inform us about a donation. We’ve basically been living out of our bags for the last year. Every time the phone rings your tummy pulls up in a knot. It sounds strange to say but every time you hear about an accident, deep down you hope that there will be a potential donor.”

These are the words of Surien Human of Bloemfontein, explaining her 58-year-old father, Dirk Human’s drastic call for a possible heart donor to step forward.
Every day about 57 people worldwide receive organ transplants, with 13 dying waiting for a possible gift of life. There are, however, no official statistics available to highlight the dire need for organ donors in South Africa.
Less than 0.3% of the South African population are registered organ donors, while every 16 minutes a new name is added to the organ transplant waiting list worldwide.
The executive director of the Organ Donor Foundation, Samantha Nicholls, says there is critical a need for organ donors in South Africa. There are currently 4300 adults and children awaiting life-saving organ transplants. We do not have the recent statistics, but in 2014 less than 600 transplants were performed,” says Nicholls.
She goes on to explain that while resources remain a major problem for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in fighting the critical shortage of organ donors, there are also cultural and religious barriers.
“We always encourage people to speak to their religious or spiritual leaders about organ donation. In fact, most religions support organ donation. Culturally there is a problem. A lot of African people believe that organ donation is related to muti and that they won’t become ancestors with their organs missing. It is, however, often a misconception. We encourage people to dig a little deeper,” says Nicholls.
According to Heart Kids South Africa, there may be up to one potential donor per hospital per day in South Africa, and almost 5 000 recipients are waiting for life-saving organs.
After the five-year-old Amy Miller lost her life to a rare heart condition in November 2015, her parents started an online petition with the help of Heart Kids SA to make it mandatory for doctors to inform the Organ Donor Foundation when a patient dies. Currently, if someone passes on, it is not mandatory for a doctor to inform the organ foundation at all.
Lisa Welsh of Heart Kids for SA says it has become necessary for parents to discuss the possibility of donating organs, should one of their children pass away. “For a parent to even think about their child passing away is really a difficult subject. Before the petition, my husband and I had to discuss whether we were willing to donate our children’s organs. We all agreed that we want to give that gift of life. It is unfortunately something that parents have to face,” says Welsh.
She says, depending on a child’s age, a teenager might be able to use the organs from a small adult and it depends more on the body size than the age of a potential organ donor. Anybody can donate an organ once he or she gets medical clearance from doctors.
“You can donate various solid organs. Your heart, lungs, kidneys, and pancreas. Your lungs can help two people. Your kidneys can help two people, while a liver can also be split into two. Those solid organs can potentially help up to seven people.”
She concludes by saying that it is important to consult with your family before deciding to sign up as an organ donor. You can visit the Organ Donor Foundation website at or phone 080-022-6611 and sign up as a potential organ donor today.

Mark Steenbok

Infographic: Lerato Sebe