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Waiting For An Organ Donation Isn’t Just Taxing For The Body

It can wreak havoc on the mind as well.

11/09/2017 8:42 AM IST | Updated 11/09/2017 8:42 AM IST
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A transplant is often the last resort for those at the last stage of organ disease. Be it the heart, lungs, kidneys or liver, an organ recipient (and his or her family) on the waitlist waits with bated breath until the telephone rings, informing them that a perfect match donor has been identified. This period can be extremely stressful and lead to patients suffering from mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

The waiting period may overwhelm the patient and can create a sense of panic and anxiety on a regular basis.

The reasons for psychological stress may include fear of dying, financial insecurity, worrying about family members, undergoing constant hospitalisation, prolonged medication etc. The long journey to receive an organ sometimes makes recipients mentally vulnerable, discouraged, and often feeling like a burden upon their loved ones. Patients on the waitlist have no idea when a donor organ will be available, and on occasions, they have to wait for weeks or even years. Along with stress comes depression. The long wait where a person believes he or she is entitled to receive an organ can result in a depressive state. Whether or not he or she will receive it in the right time becomes an overriding worry, and is the most asked question to their physician.

When on the list, a patient is down on the count, awaiting rescue from a donor. There are many other factors that can add to a depressive state. Those who have to wait for a longer period of time (patients who are non-critical) are likely to see their health deteriorate. Another aspect is thinking that he/she benefits out of another person's death which instills a feeling of guilt, increasing the chances of being depressed. Sometimes, worries about post-transplant issues can exacerbate depression—what if the donor organ fails, what if there are complications, what if there are bad side effects from life-long medications? The waiting period may overwhelm the patient and can create a sense of panic and anxiety on a regular basis.

Support is crucial at this point in time as an unstable mind can lead to further complications and put the patient at a risk.

In India, over 1 lakh recipients are waiting for organs today, with barely around 15,000 donors who have consented to donate their organs. The demand certainly exceeds the availability and India is still at a nascent stage when it comes to organ donation, as awareness of the cause is low. In addition, we need to remember that chronic illnesses are not only accompanied by biological and physical changes but also by emotional and social upheaval. The patient must adjust to a "new normal" and cope with it. The self-adaptation process is accompanied by an increasing loss of independence and social roles—family and occupational. During the waiting period patients may need expert help as well as extensive family and social support in the form of self-help groups. This support is crucial at this point in time as an unstable mind can lead to further complications and put the patient at a risk.

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