Organ donations up, but demand outstrips supply

Organ donations up, but demand outstrips supply. The number of organs donated each year in Canada has risen in the past decade but hasn't kept pace with demand, according to a new report.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information released a report Tuesday on organ donor activity from 1998 to 2008.

More than two-thirds of the increase in organ donations over the decade under study came from the living.

More than two-thirds of the increase in organ donations over the decade under study came from the living. (Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press)

In the first year of the decade, 812 organs were donated, the authors found. By 2008, the number had increased to 1,038.

But last year, about 215 Canadians died while waiting for an organ transplant.

"There are many factors that explain why the need is increasing," said study author Jean-Marie Berthelot, vice-president of programs at the institute.

Improvements in medical care are keeping people alive longer, and older people are more susceptible to organ failure, Berthelot said. Obesity, because of its impact on diabetes, has also played a role, he said. Patients with diabetes can suffer renal failure and need new kidneys.

These patients are often treated with dialysis, which cleans the blood and removes waste from the body, until a kidney becomes available for transplant. The incidence rate of end-stage renal disease increased from 149 to 168 per one million people over the decade.

Incomparable gift

More than two-thirds of the increase in organ donations over the decade under study came from the living, Berthelot said.

Gordon Allan of Vancouver has benefited from both types of gifts. The 57-year-old was born with a heart defect and 10 years ago received a heart from a deceased donor. Two years later, when he needed a kidney to survive, his sister gave him one of hers.

"Nobody's going to get under their tree this year what I got from her," Allan said. "When you are a person in congestive heart failure, or renal failure, our life is just basically getting by."

Allan said he walked the afternoon after the kidney transplant.

"I felt unbelievably well," he said.

Berthelot said he believes greater public awareness is the key to getting more people to sign their organ donor cards.

"In many cases, you can imagine a situation where someone's critically ill, the doctors are focused obviously on doing the best for the patient, and the thought of organ and tissue donation doesn’t enter into the discussion, and so it doesn’t take place," said Dr. John Gill of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, who contributed to the report.

A single deceased donor can provide up to six organs to save lives.

Canadian Blood Services is now co-ordinating organ donation at the national level, which will increase the availability organs, Berthelot said.

In Ontario, the Trillium Gift of Life Network noted that since 2002, it has successfully conquered a stagnant level of donations from deceased donors. For example, the number of deceased donors in the last six years has averaged 177 in Ontario, an increase of 26 per cent compared with the average of the previous five years, which was 141.

Berthelot said Quebec has out-performed other regions of the country for deceased donations but has under-performed in the number of living donors. ( )

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