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America's Health: Our Top Doctor's 2006 Report Card

Acting U.S. Surgeon General Kenneth Moritsugu weighs in on our health -- and his own.

Why is organ donation such an important issue to you?

Organ donation is a professional and personal issue. As a physician, I have always been a proponent of organ and tissue donation. I have seen the life-giving benefits it provides to other individuals. It became personal to me when my wife was killed in an auto accident. Because she and I talked about it, we had the privilege of donating her organs. Four people received solid organs and had a longer life because of her. Four years later, my 22-year-old daughter was struck by a car while crossing the street. Because of her gift, another five people had a renewed life. Today, 93,000 people are on a waiting list for a transplant. If we could only find enough donors, people who are generous enough. When we are faced with the sudden death of a loved one, we are in the depths of grief. But in our grief, we see that good can come of it, helping us to remember our loved ones and what they were able to do as organ and tissue donors.

When you put a human face in front of the issue, that makes a difference. That is why I feel so passionate both professionally and personally about this issue.

Do you believe there is a connection between environmental pollutants and certain cancers?

Certainly we have the science to show that. We learn more every day. We don't know what causes certain cancers, and there is a relationship, positive as well as negative, between health and environment. Look at the Surgeon General report on environmental tobacco smoke -- it definitely does have an impact on well-being of children as well as adults.

If more women die of lung cancer than breast cancer, then why do so few know this startling fact?

I think it goes back to the need to improve health literacy. I am sure there is a discussion in doctors' and nurse practitioners' offices across the country about the dangers of lung as well as breast cancer. But I'm not sure people [always] have access to reliable information. A lot of info is on the web, but we have to discriminate. We need to make sure those we serve understand what we are talking about.

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