Donate tissue not just organs

April is National Donate Life Month, a time to educate Washingtonians about the process and incredible impact of donation, celebrate those who have saved lives with their gifts, and encourage more people to register as organ, eye and tissue donors.

Did you know one donor can save up to nine lives through organ donation and enhance more than 150 lives through tissue donation? Most people are familiar with organ donation—such as hearts and kidneys—but less familiar with tissue donation, or a common transplant called an allograft. Allografts are usually implants of bone, tendons, ligaments, veins, heart valves and corneas.

A heart valve can save the life of a baby with a congenital heart defect; bone implants can help a person suffering from scoliosis, or curvature of the spine; and skin implants are used to heal burn victims. An estimated one in 20 Americans will need some type of tissue transplant in their lifetimes. At the nonprofit tissue bank LifeNet Health, we are dedicated to the families we serve through the donation process and have an equal commitment to local patients and the surgeons we work with for transplantation services. Our recovery teams in Renton and Spokane in Washington, and Missoula and Billings in Montana care for and distribute more than 40,000 allografts and implants every year in the Northwest. The gift of tissue has the incredible ability to transform people’s lives, including Anna Eggink, who received tissue grafts in both of her knees after living with chronic dislocation for most of her life. Eggink never knew when her knees would dislocate and because of that, she always held back and didn’t live life to the fullest.

After her two surgeries, the physical benefits of the donated tissue were immediate, but what she didn’t realize was that this experience would have a lasting impact on her life. These gifts allowed her to live the life she’s always dreamed of and the ability to enjoy the day-to-day activities that weren’t always an option before.

Even though more than 120 million people in the U.S. are registered donors, we know the need for donation, specifically allograft implants, continues to exceed the need here locally and across the country. This month, we encourage people to share the importance of tissue donation on social media, in conversation, and among their networks. Here are just a few ways you can make a difference:

•Educate yourself.

•Talk to loved ones about donating.

•Volunteer to help make a positive impact on the donation community. •Share your story. 95 percent of Americans are in favor of being a donor, but only 54 percent are registered. Help bridge the gap by sharing the importance of donation.

•Register to be an organ and tissue donor.

Levi Anderson is general manager of LifeNet Health, which recovers, prepares and distributes tissue for transplantation, medical research and education.