The ultimate New Year's Resolution - sign the organ donor register, save a life
What New Year's resolution are you guaranteed not to fail at, and has the added benefit of saving a life or even more? The answer is signing up to be an organ donor. The NHS has made it as easy as they can - as easy as 1-2-3, in fact.
About 4,650 organ transplants were carried out last year in the UK, of which about 3,000 were kidneys. But those organs came from just 2,500 donors, so many people saved more than one life. Other organs used include heart, lungs and livers. Sadly, people tend to associate those in need of liver transplants with excess alcohol, but in fact three quarters of people needing liver transplants because of problems entirely unrelated to alcohol.
More donors are desperately needed - as of March 2014, there were over 500 people on the active transplant list for a liver transplant alone. And transplants really do save lives - today, about 90% of people having a liver transplant survive for at least a year, and 80% are still alive five years later.
Of course, having a liver transplant isn't the end of the story - transplant patients will need to take medication life-long to prevent rejection of their organ by their body's own immune system. Taking medication life-long can be a challenge - whether it's statins for high cholesterol or blood-pressure-lowering tablets, up to 60% of patients have stopped taking their medication entirely within a year. This can be a particular challenge for 'preventive' medications, which don't provide any benefits in the short term but lower your risk of long-term complications.
There are lots of factors which make us less likely to keep going with tablets - side effects, how often we have to take them, complicated regimes, along with the way their benefits have been 'sold' to us and how on board we are with staying well. One tablet commonly used to prevention graft organ rejection, tacrolimus, can't be taken within an hour of eating and you can't eat for two hours afterwards. If you've gone from the brink of death and on a transplant register to being given your life back, this may not seem a big price to pay - but imagine trying to fit this sort of regime into your busy working life. In one study, using a once daily rather than a twice daily version of this tablet was associated with an improved survival rate following liver transplant from 82% to 89% after five years.
There are always new advances being made, and organ transplant is no exception. But doctors and scientists can make more effective medication all they like - it won't do any good unless they have organs to use. So use the Bank Holiday to log on to the NHS Organ Donor Register - and even better, get your friends and family to join in.