Tuesday, October 13, 1998 Published at 23:16 GMT 00:16 UK
Families 'must be asked about organ donation'
Many childrens' lives are saved by organ transplantation
Doctors and nurses could do more to increase the availability of transplant organs for use in seriously sick children, a conference will hear on Wednesday.
Intensive care staff are being urged to ensure that the families of a dying patient are always asked whether they wish to donate organs after death.
Antony Hooker, transplant co-ordinator at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, says a donor's family can often benefit greatly from hearing that their loved one has helped to save the lives of others.
However, he says many relatives do not get this opportunity.
"Some intensive care staff believe they cannot approach relatives for organ donation because it is too distressing, but you cannot tell how somebody is feeling inside from how they are reacting on the outside.
"It is the right of the family to choose whether or not they want to donate the organs for transplantation. Donating organs can be something that is very positive because at least they have the knowledge that somebody else will not go through their situation."
More than 30 children die each year on the transplant list waiting for a suitable donor organ to become available.
The first national children's transplant conference in Birmingham will hear that, with a chronic shortage of available organs, it is vital that rare opportunities should not be passed over.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital runs a programme whereby donor and recipient families can meet if they so desire. Some families are now in regular contact.
The development of organ transplantation has revolutionised the outlook for many infants and children dying of liver, kidney or cardiac failure.
However, because survival rates following transplantation have improved sharply, there has been an increased in the number of children referred for surgery, putting intense pressure on an already limited donor pool.
In 1997, 350 children aged under 18 underwent transplantation, 221 were still waiting at the end of the year and 28 had died waiting for a suitable donor.
Organs from living related donors are an option for both liver and kidney transplantation, but not for heart transplantation, or the newly established transplant of the small intestine.
A single donor can provide heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and small intestine for transplantation into as many as nine recipients.