Once they do decide to donate, they might not know how to go about it. Patterson said the federal government's Web site -- OrganDonor.gov -- is a good source of help because it offers state-by-state guidance.
"Each state is different," Patterson said. "Each state has a different organ procurement organization, and some states have more than one." Once signed up, donors should double-check their status if they move to another state, she said.
Some potential donors believe they are too old or too sick, Alexander said. But his advice is to sign up anyway. Whether organs and tissues are acceptable for donation cannot be determined until after death anyway, he explained.
Also, some people might want to donate one body part or tissue but not others and so they delay a decision or decide not to donate. But Alexander stressed that people "can choose what to donate."
Once potential donors are registered, they should tell friends and family of the decision, both experts said. Many donors do not, they said, and when these people die, their loved ones sometimes resist the idea because they aren't sure that's what the person truly wanted.
Stepping up outreach efforts, though, is helping some, Patterson said. Her organization, for instance, sponsored a challenge at Arizona universities earlier this year, resulting in more than 500 college students deciding to become donors.
Donor organizations also have raised their profile, she said, by handing out fact sheets and brochures about organ donation and donor programs at health fairs and other community events. And any time word gets out about the inspirational real-life stories linking a donor's family and a recipient's family, non-donors are nudged to think about donating and act on it, Patterson said.
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