We can all become heroes by giving the gift of...

We can all become heroes by giving the gift of life. Credit: Getty Images/Peter Dazeley

Katrina Erskin of Valley Stream was in shock when her five-week-old baby Jaleel died of sudden infant death syndrome. But after LiveOnNY discussed the lifesaving legacy Jaleel could have, Katrina decided to donate the baby’s organs. Her father, who originally opposed the procedure believing it would be improper to touch the body for an organ donation, ultimately supported the decision. Jaleel donated his heart and liver, saving two babies.

We are all capable of this noble act. Yet, sadly, millions of people do not volunteer to donate their organs upon death due to misconceptions about organ donation.

This is a particular problem in New York. Today, as more than 8,000 New Yorkers are on waiting lists for an organ that can save their lives, millions of New Yorkers are not registered to be donors. About 45% of adult New Yorkers are registered, far below the national average of about 60%. Nearly 500 New Yorkers died last year because a matching organ was unavailable. Debunking misconceptions about organ donation is literally a matter of life and death.

Here are some common myths and real facts about organ donation.

Myth: Doctors won’t try as hard to save the life of an organ donor.

Reality: Physicians are obligated to do all they can to save your life, whether or not you are an organ donor. Separate medical teams are responsible for saving your life and organ transplantation.

Myth: Organ donors can’t have open-casket funerals.

Reality: Organ donors do have open-casket funerals. Donating an organ upon death means a surgeon will make an incision, preserve the donor’s life-giving organ, then suture the incision as with any operation. The donor’s body, treated with respect and care, is intact with no visible signs of organ donation.

Myth: Only rich and famous people get organs from donors.

Reality: Rich and famous people receive no priority. A nationwide computer network matches organs to potential recipients according to blood type, height, and weight; medical urgency; and time spent on the appropriate organ waiting list. To ensure no conflicts of interest, separate entities maintain the organ donation registry and the organ recipient waiting list.

Myth: My religion forbids me from becoming an organ donor.

Reality: Major religions do support organ donation as a final deed of great charity and humanity.

Catholicism fully embraces organ and tissue donation as an act of generosity and love.

Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Evangelical, Methodist, Mormon, and Unitarian branches of Christianity encourage organ donation as a selfless life-giving act of kindness.

Southern Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Pentecostal and Quaker faiths support donation as a valid choice of individual conscience.

Many religious authorities within Islam are supportive of organ donation.

All denominations of Judaism are supportive of organ donation as a great mitzvah that fulfills the Jewish obligation to save a life.

Scholars of Eastern religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikh, generally support organ donation as a selfless act that brings good karma and does not interfere with the transition of the soul at the end of life.

Today, the two babies Jaleel saved are in their 20s, and one recently gave birth to her own baby.

We can all become heroes by giving the gift of life. If you are interested in a great act of loving kindness through organ donation, let your closest family members know and add your name to the Donate Life Registry.

This guest essay reflects the views of Leonard Achan, president and chief executive of LiveOnNY, the organ procurement organization for the Greater New York City region.

This guest essay reflects the views of Leonard Achan, president and chief executive of LiveOnNY, the organ procurement organization for the Greater New York City region.