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Spain's donor system attracts praise

13 January 08 00:03 GMT

By Branwen Jeffreys
BBC News health correspondent, in Madrid

The Spanish organ donor system is a remarkable story of human generosity in the face of grief.

The bereaved families and transplant patients never meet, the link between them is the transplant co-ordinators in every Spanish hospital who make the anonymous donation possible.

In Tito Mora they have a walking advertisement.

He is an old fashioned crooner with a career that has lasted four decades and stretched from Madrid to Broadway.

His flat is full of memorabilia and records. Tito Mora was one of the early patients to benefit from the co-ordinator system gradually put in place in Spain in the 1990s.

Several of his immediate family died of liver disease, but Tito Mora had a successful transplant 16 years ago.

Since then he has been able to lead a normal life, taking just two anti-rejection pills a day. Tito Mora has returned to performing, recording one song "Vivo por Ti" to help persuade more families to agree to organ donation.

"You can look at me and I'm alive - I was reborn 16 years ago after my liver transplant operation and thanks to that donor I'm alive.

"You might have someone in the future who needs an organ from a donor so think about it."

'Wanted to donate'

Paloma Gonzalez Lopez was just 45 when she died unexpectedly on 19 November, 2006.

Within hours her family had unanimously agreed to a request that her organs should be donated for transplant.

Two months on when I met her elderly father Joaquin, his voice thickened with grief as he talked about the day of her death, but he said the decision to donate had brought him some comfort.

"To be able to give someone the chance of life is a real satisfaction, it makes you feel proud, it's everything in life. I'd advise any who can donate to do it, in the long term you'll feel happy and contented."

It is standard practice for transplant co-ordinators in Spain to ask families what they think their relative would have wanted to happen.

It is a question that Paloma's sister Lola found very helpful: "The decision I took - the truth is I just thought about her - she was a really generous person who always helped other people when she could - so I knew she would have agreed and wanted to donate".

Several weeks after the decision, the family were told that a 31-year-old woman had a successful transplant with one of Paloma's kidneys.

Totally euphoric

They may never know how many other people have been helped. A single decision to donate can help three or four patients who may need a kidney, lung, liver or cornea.

For Jose Luis Camunos the chance of a new life came on Christmas Day 2006 when he was matched with a donor kidney.

Before the operation, the former oil refinery worker had to spend 10 hours a day attached to a dialysis machine.

A couple of weeks later he was ready to be discharged and told me he felt totally euphoric, looking ahead to enjoying his life.

"There were moments of despair before but I've managed to put up with it as much as I can. From now on, as I'm retired, I want a very quiet life, lots of walks, lots of countryside."

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