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Why we must all get behind organ donation and the British Transplant Games

More than 7,500 people in the UK are currently waiting for an organ transplant and, while 98% of us would accept an organ if we needed one, only 31% are actually registered donors (Transplant Sport).

Sadly, three people still die every day while waiting for a transplant, which is such a dreadful waste of life when there is a solution – organ donation.

Infographic: organ donation and transplants

That’s why I personally, and Westfield Health as a company, have been supporting the British Transplant Games since 2008.

The Games have been hosted annually by different UK cities for nearly 40 years and it’s been such an important platform for raising awareness of the shortage of organ donors. The organisers Transplant Sport have clear objectives:

  • to highlight the benefits of transplantation
  • to thank and celebrate donor families
  • to encourage more people to sign up to the organ donor register
  • to stress the need for potential donors to discuss their wishes with their families.

Discussing your decision

This is a really important point. Letting your loved ones know of your decision to join the register may make it easier for them to deal with their loss, if the worst should happen.

Unfortunately, one in five families deny donation if their loved one was on the register but hadn’t shared their wishes (NHS Blood and Transplant). Relatives are more likely to consent if they know the donor’s decision, but even then as many as one in 10 still don’t go ahead. 

The simple fact is that if more families agreed to donation, more lives would be saved.

While there are currently 21 million registered donors in the UK, which sounds a lot, many more are required: only about 1% of registered donors that die in the UK each year do so in circumstances where their organs can be used (NHS Blood and Transplant).

Every potential donor is incredibly valuable, so it’s vital that those who want to donate have their wishes followed.

Saving lives

The British Transplant Games is the perfect showcase for the positive effects of organ and tissue donation.

Not only is the event great for raising awareness; it also shows, through the athletes, what can be achieved after having a life saving transplant and highlights those special people who allow their relatives’ organs to be donated to help people in need.

I feel particularly proud when I look back on the 2013 Games, when we hosted them in our home city of Sheffield. It was really moving to watch the parade pass by our own offices and it was then that the realisation hit me - without transplantation, a large number of those people (including many children) would not have been there.

I remember hearing about an American boy who sadly died while he was here in the UK. After consultation with his parents in the USA, his organs were donated to a British person. I hear many other inspirational stories like this whenever the athletes and donor families come together.

Fortunately, families have the wonderful support of the Donor Family Network, a charity that aims to promote the positive benefits of organ and tissue donation for the families of those who have died and donated, for recipients and for those awaiting transplants.

A promising future

It’s great to see that the Games are getting bigger and better every year. When this year’s event starts on 30 July, Newcastle-Gateshead will see the highest number of competitors and spectators in its history. And it’s fantastic to see so many celebrities endorsing the Games, including Clare Balding, Ant and Dec, Alan Shearer and golfer Lee Westwood.

I’m really looking forward to watching all the athletes take part in their different sports, and to celebrating their success. The simple fact that they are able to participate is inspiring in itself.

Newcastle-Gateshead is now bidding to host the World Transplant Games in 2019. If the bid is successful, it would be an amazing achievement and would give a huge boost to this worthy cause.

What I’d like to see now is even more communication to stress the importance of joining the organ donor register, as well as more government resource put behind it and a greater understanding from all parts of the community. After all, one day it may be one of us - or a friend, colleague or family member - who is in need of a life saving transplant.

We’re really proud of our involvement with the British Transplant Games and we hope that our progressive efforts year on year will result in more registered organ donors and, ultimately, in more lives being saved.

To join the organ donor register, visit organdonation.nhs.uk. And don’t forget to discuss your decision with your family.

Graham Moore is our Chairman.

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JOANNE SCHUMACHER 31 Jul 2015

I AM ACTUALLY WAITING FOR A KIDNEY TRANSPLANT AT THE MOMENT AND I AM FORTUNATE THAT MY MOTHER IS A MATCH AND WOULD LIKE TO DONATE. I WAS ON THE ORGAN DONAR REGISTER BEFOREHAND AND CANT UNDERSTAND WHY MORE PEOPLE ARN'T! I THINK THE PROBLEM IS IT IS NOT ADVERTISED ENOUGH! WE ARE NOT AWARE OF HOW MANY PEOPLE COULD BE SAVED BY OTHERS DONATING. LIVES ARE BEING WASTED AND ITS ALL BECAUSE WE DONT KNOW ENOUGH! MORE PEOPLE NEED TO DISCUSS THEIR WISHES WITH THEIR FAMILIES AND SIGN UP TO THE DONAR REGISTER TODAY! (HOW WOULD WE FEEL TO LOSE A CHILD, BROTHER, SISITER, MOTHER, FATHER, HUSBAND OR WIFE WHEN THERE IS A CHANCE THEY COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED?)