Following the first successful heart transplant, there are thousands more waiting for lifesaving operations
A national database of organ donors cannot come soon enough
There is no questioning the ability of this country to give freely; its charitable donations place the UAE as the 10th most generous nation in the world, according to the World Giving Index. But it is a different kind of benevolence that has prompted the latest marker of its generosity. This month one donor, whose identity has been left anonymous, saved three lives via organ donation on dying. Among those given new hope for a long and healthy life as a result were a 38-year-old Emirati man with late stage heart disease, who made history at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi when he underwent the first full heart transplant carried out in the country, and a child given a new kidney. All three patients had been on waiting lists for a long time with little or no chance of survival without new organs. These are milestones in the evolution of health care in the region and a landmark moment in transplant surgery.
Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi had been preparing for such an operation for two years but the significance of this moment goes back still further, to the introduction of a law in 1993 allowing transplants from the organs of dead donors. It was not enacted for two decades because there was confusion about the medical definition of death and it was not until 2013 that the Ministry of Health and the Islamic affairs body Awqaf clarified the definition as being brain dead. Last year a presidential decree crystallising the legal and religious implications set the wheels in motion for a new phase in transplant medicine.
There are thousands of patients on waiting lists around the country, whose lives depend on getting organ transplants. And there are no doubt thousands, possibly millions, of potential donors, who are ready and willing to make the final sacrifice in their last moments. They are vital for the work of the National Transplant Committee to succeed. At the moment, the families of potential donors are approached by doctors and nurses, who have been trained how to ask whether they would consider releasing their loved one’s organs - an extremely difficult conversation and one which could be made far easier by compiling a national database of willing donors. Talks are underway about how to register donors, whether by getting them to carry a card, opt in with their driving licence or Emirates ID or to follow the example of Spain, where anyone who does not want to donate organs has to opt out. A voluntary scheme would be preferable here, where different cultures and beliefs might proscribe the practice – but it cannot come soon enough for the thousands of patients waiting for a glimmer of hope.