organ_web.jpgThere is no greater gift than the gift of life. Organ and tissue donation gives thousands of people each year – many of them close to death – a second chance at living.

Josie Flores-Centrella never discussed organ donation with her family.

“We never talked about death,” she said. “It was taboo.”

Then, in 2000, her mother suffered a brain aneurysm and was pronounced brain dead. Flores-Centrella was approached by a representative from the Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency, an organization that obtains

organs for clinical transplantation throughout South Florida and transports them to transplant centers within the United States. The family joined others nationwide that faced a tough decision at a devastating time in their lives.

President Barack Obama recently signed a proclamation designating April 2014 as National Donate Life Month. “We celebrate those who provide vital organ, eye, and tissue donations, and we bring new hope to the growing list of men, women, and children who still need a donation,” the proclamation reads. “I encourage

all Americans to think about their loved ones and to consider becoming a donor.”

Making the decision to become an organ donor often stirs up a mix of emotions, including fear and uncertainty. Common misconceptions and myths about organ donation can cause some people to hesitate or choose not to do it. But it is important to educate yourself and base your decision on facts, such as these:

• If you are an organ donor and you suffer a traumatic injury, stroke or aneurysm, doctors will make every attempt possible to save your life. There is no conflict between saving lives and using organs for transplant.

• No major religion opposes organ donation. If you have questions regarding your faith’s position, consult your religious leader.

• Costs related to organ, tissue and eye donations will be covered by the donor programs; the cost is not the responsibility of the donor family.

• Organ, tissue and eye donations are only done following the declaration of death by a doctor not involved in transplantation.

• Anyone can be considered for donation, regardless of their age and medical history.

Becoming a donor is simple: you can register online or at a driver’s license office. If you sign up, remember to share your decision with your family and friends. After careful consideration, Flores-Centrella made the decision to donate her mother’s organs.

“She would have thought it was a great thing because she was so helpful and always helped anyone in need,” Flores-Centrella said. Flores-Centrella, who began volunteering for Life Alliance and now works for the organization as a family advocate, said she later learned that her mother’s gift saved the lives of three others.

At the Miami Transplant Institute, a unique affiliation between Jackson Memorial Hospital and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, 460 life-saving transplants were performed last year on adults and children. Jackson Memorial is the only Florida hospital to perform every type of organ transplant, including intestinal and multivisceral transplantation.

Yet, there are about 1,900 patients at the Miami Transplant Institute still waiting for the life-changing call that an organ has become available.

People die each day waiting for transplants because of the shortage of available organs in the United States. But one organ donor has the ability to make a profound difference by saving the lives of up to eight critically ill people, and tissue donors can save or improve the lives of hundreds more.

Dr. Rodrigo Vianna is the director of transplant services at the Miami Transplant Institute and director of liver and GI transplantation. Dr. Vianna is a multi-organ transplant surgeon.