It’s something that many of us may take for granted — signing the organ donation pledge online or having the sticker on our vehicle licence. It is also perhaps the most profound act of generosity anyone can make; the promise that when we die, we will give someone else, likely a stranger, a desperately needed liver, kidney, or even a heart, and possibly a whole new life.Samantha Nicholls, executive director of the Organ Donor Foundation of SA [ODF], said the foundation creates awareness and educates the public about organ and tissue donation. She described organ donation as the process of surgically removing an organ or tissue from one person (the organ donor) and placing it into another person (the recipient). Transplantation is necessary because the recipient’s organ has failed or has been damaged by disease or injury.You can donate your heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas by signing up to be an organ donor and allow that your organs be harvested after you die. Nicholls said one body can save up to seven lives with these five organs. She said donating your tissue, corneas, skin, bone and heart valves can improve the quality of life of up to 50 people. “There is such a desperate need for organs and tissue. Thousands of patients need organs and only a few hundred receive a second chance at life. Many adults and children die as a result of the shortage of organs and tissue,” she said.Nicholls said ODF has approximately 300 000 registered donors, but less than 600 transplants are performed, both organs and corneas, each year. Nicholls said people can donate a kidney while they’re alive or a part of their liver. She said the doctors determine which organs and tissue can be used at the time of death. “If someone is a potential donor on a ventilator and has been diagnosed brain dead by two doctors who are independent of the transplant team, a transplant or tissue co-ordinator will discuss the option of organ and tissue donation with the family.”Nicholls said even if someone was not registered as a donor, the relatives can sign consent forms to have their organs donated.Give someone a chance of life and be a donorAyanda NkosiAyanda Nkosi., who has been on the organ transfer waiting list for the past five years, has been very vocal on her social media about organ donation and is encouraging people to be open-minded about it.Nkosi (36) was diagnosed with stage-five kidney failure in 2014.“I’ve had all the members of my family tested but unfortunately they are not compatible with me, so it’s just been a waiting game,” she said. Nkosi, who used to work as a journalist, said she was forced to stop working due to her deteriorating medical condition.“I have four hours of dialysis three times a week, which makes it pretty impossible to go to work afterwards. Dialysis interferes with your life; it leaves you tired and weak. “I used to travel overseas a lot but I can’t travel anymore because it’s such a huge inconvenience as I’d need to look for a place to dialyse and that’s extra costs,” she said.Nkosi said fortunately she is on medical aid and that her family is very supportive.“It’s been tough for them as well because we don’t have any history of kidney disease in my family. The kidney failure came as a huge shock to me, I’ve always been a healthy person and led a healthy life. “The contributing factor was my high blood pressure which is one of the common reasons for kidney failure,” she said.“People are dying everyday unnecessarily. Your kidneys or organs are no good to you when you’re dead so why not give another person a chance to live. In the black culture, organ donation is a taboo subject. Some of the black people I’ve spoken to are very resistant and always play the ‘it’s against my culture’ card. “That is why you find that organ donation is very uncommon among black people, whereas in families of other races you find that every member of the family is registered as an organ donor. “It’s also important to educate people that they can donate some of their organs while they’re still alive and not be affected in anyway.“I wish South Africa would follow examples of other countries like Spain, where everyone is automatically born as a donor, but can choose to opt out. If this country had the same system, many lives would be saved,” she said.Nkosi went on to encourage people to register and spread the word. “You are doing a good deed. Your one body can save seven lives.” How do you thank someone for saving your life?“I just cannot begin to express my gratitude to the selfless person who died and donated their liver to me so I could be here today.”These are the words of Dr John Buyers (59) from Hilton, who is a recipient of a liver donation.Buyers, who is the CEO of Preformed Line Products SA, said he stared experiencing stomach pain five years ago. He was diagnosed with a liver disease called alpha antitrypsin deficiency. “I was put on medication that helped manage the condition, but I was also told that some people can live with the condition their entire lives and be okay and sometimes the medication might stop working and other medical avenues would need to be explored.Dr John Buyers.“I tried to keep fit, but I eventually became very sick. A specialist doctor realised I needed to get on a liver transplant programme because my liver was basically finished,” he said.He was then transferred to the Wits University Donald Gordon Medical Centre and Transplant Clinic in Johannesburg where he underwent numerous tests and was put on the organ waiting list. He was told that he would have to wait for three to six months, or even longer.“I went home and was frustrated. I couldn’t work and my body was big and bloated because water wasn’t leaving my body as it should.“Two and a half weeks later, I got a call from the hospital and I was told that I needed to rush to Jo’burg for the transplant. I even had a bag already packed like a pregnant woman and as soon as the call came, we rushed there,” he said.After hours of more daunting tests, Buyers went into theatre on August 9, at 5.30 pm.“I remember the nurse who was prepping me for surgery explaining what was going to happen. She said I would be put under anaesthetic and when I woke up, the first thing I would be told would be to breathe. She said if I was unable to breathe on my own, I would be put on a ventilator to help me breathe. She said I should try hard to breathe. I kid you not, it was exactly like that. I remember someone saying to me ‘breathe, breathe’ and I remember gasping for dear life remembering what the nurse said. That was the first and biggest milestone I overcame,” he said.He said his post-surgery recovery was faster than they had anticipated and he was out of hospital after 14 days and allowed to go back to work after about three months. He was then asked to write an anonymous letter to thank the family of his organ donor. “It took me a long time to write the letter because I just didn’t know how to express my gratitude in words. How do you begin to say thank you to someone for saving your life? It’s a huge task to write this down. It was emotional but I eventually did it,” he said.Buyers said he went back to varsity to complete his doctorate studies and is leading a healthy lifestyle and encourages others to be opened-minded about organ donation. “If people didn’t donate organs I wouldn’t be here. It’s doing something to help someone else. I encourage everybody now. My family members are registered donors and most of my colleagues too.” The darker side of organ transfersBecause of the huge demand for human organs across the globe, there have been several reports of people being targeted while visiting foreign countries and killed for their organs, which are then sold on the black market.Similarities in the cases of two missing South Africans living and working in Vietnam have revealed a pattern that indicates a possibility that organ harvesting was involved, according to Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman.He was speaking about John Bothma and Mushfiq Daniels who lived in the same city in Vietnam where they worked as teachers. Both befriended an American woman and then went missing.Bothma was last seen in Ho Chi Minh City on May 18, while Daniels’ family last heard from him on July 3. Gift of the Givers often assists families who have loved ones in distress overseas. Speaking to Weekend Witness, Sooliman said he still believes strongly that the disappearance of Bothma and Daniels is linked to organ harvesting. “How many weeks have gone by now? With each day that goes by it’s more likely that organ harvesting might be the reason they disappeared.”Sooliman said that in February, the Vietnamese government bust a massive organ trafficking ring inside Vietnam. “There is a real and big demand for organs in and around Vietnam. We are told that in China you can be paid $2 500 [about R3 700] for a kidney,” he said.Sooliman said Gift of the Givers has passed on all its findings on Bothma and Daniels’ disappearance to state security officials who are working with the Vietnamese government to investigate the matter further.He added that he suspects that foreign nationals were being targeted because they are more vulnerable in a foreign country. “Targeting someone who is not from around the area does not create a lot of attention as not many people will miss them initially, unlike targeting someone from your village or your city as when they disappear everyone wants to know what happened. Foreigners are targeted because they don’t have any relatives around, often don’t have much family or financial support and if they disappear, [initially] no one will notice that they have gone missing,” he said.