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Coming Soon From Your Employer: Organ Donor Cards

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Distribution around the country, Thompson tells WebMD, is "very fair. There are some problems, ... there's no question about that. Several states do a better job than others. The myths that the rich and famous get organs [before others] is not reality. It's a myth, and we're trying to knock down those myths."

Numbers of cadaver donations -- of hearts, lungs, and livers -- have increased in the past few years, says Joel Newman, a spokesman for the United Network for Organ Sharing. In 2000, those donations increased by 2.7%. But it's still not enough to meet the need, he tells WebMD.

"It's the cadaver donations that are most critical, and that's where the real shortage has been," Newman tells WebMD. "On average, 15 people die every day waiting for an organ transplant."

"There is no long-term medical therapy to keep those patients alive," Newman says. "Many will die without having a transplant."

The numbers of so-called "living donations" -- in which a kidney or (in very rare cases) segments of liver, pancreas, or intestine is taken from a living donor -- have increased in the past year by more than 16%, says Newman. The vast majority of living donations involve kidneys, and the waiting list for kidney transplantation is the nation's longest, he says.

Of more than 70,000 people awaiting transplants, more than two-thirds are awaiting kidney transplants. However, these aren't the sickest patients, says Newman.

"In some cases, the transplants are life-saving," he tells WebMD. "But for most, they are life-enhancing. People can survive long-term on dialysis."

Getting families to talk about organ donation is the biggest goal of the national campaign, Newman tells WebMD.

"Too many families decline donation because they don't know what their loved one wanted," he says. "They don't want to make the wrong decision. But very few families would override the wishes stated in an organ donor card."

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