In the early hours of November 22, 2022, 21-year-old Emma was crossing Egnatia Street in Thessaloniki on foot. An unconscious driver ran her over and seriously injured her. He then disappeared, leaving her helpless on the pavement. Emma, originally from Chania, Crete, was in Thessaloniki for studies. She was taken to the Papageorgiou hospital and a few days later she breathed her last. Her family chose to follow Emma’s wish and donate her organs, stressing that this decision “was the only way for them”. “My child had expressed this desire at an unsuspected time. The last time I saw her in the hospital bed, her heart was beating – who are we to stop it,” said the mother of the unfortunate girl. Emma has passed away, but her organs are still beating in other people’s bodies. And the fact that she had raised awareness and shared her desire with her own people while she was alive helped catalyze this.
Why does organ donation concern us all? What are the prevailing myths and what is the reality surrounding this important public health issue? The answers are given by Organmeetingsthe innovative program that has created the Onassis Foundation in the context of the National Initiative it has undertaken for organ donation and transplants, with the scientific guidance of the Hellenic Transplant Organization and the cooperation of the Onassios Cardiac Surgery Center. Its aim is to offer comprehensive information, while dispelling myths and stereotypes that still prevail.
The program is not addressed to individuals, but to groups of adults, so that through our workplace or the club we participate in, we can massively become part of and grow the chain of life created with Organmeetings.
Who is it aimed at and what is its purpose? THE Alexandros Morellas, Health Program Manager of the Onassis Foundation, answers: “Organmeetings is a new program with a dual format. First, we have developed a comprehensive informational guide to organ donation and transplantation, which each of us can browse through onassis.org, while at the same time establishing a constant contact with citizens through webinars, three per calendar year, which addressed to media, bodies, organizations – private or public –, associations with social work and companies/enterprises, which would like to link their CSR policy with the information around organ donation. The online seminars are carried out by specialized representatives and partners of the Hellenic Transplantation Organization, with the support of the Onassis Foundation and the Onassis Heart Surgery Center.
Indeed, for some time now the Onassis Foundation has launched an intensive information campaign with the aim of dispelling the myths and stereotypes surrounding organ donation. At this point, Mr. Morellas clarifies: “The program is not addressed to individuals, but to groups of adults, so that through our workplace or the club in which we participate, we can massively become part of and grow the chain of life that is created with Organmeetings. That is, the form can only be completed by executives who have the ability to organize actions with the collective participation of employees/members based on their role and capacity, such as, for example, the Human Resources manager, the Marketing manager, the president of an association or the editor-in-chief of a media’.
The next online meeting will take place on December 5, while it is worth remembering that every participation of a company, media, body, etc. will be certified by the Hellenic Transplantation Organization (HTO), which will additionally, at an annual awards event, deliver a symbolic memento of participation in the program to the respective representative. The certification will last for 2 years. “In this way, we can all become ambassadors of the idea of organ donation, setting an example and motivating other fellow citizens to follow suit, so that they too become links in this chain of life,” argues Mr. Morellas in our discussion .
Iouli Menoudakou, head of the Transplant Coordination Department (TCO). Photo: Penelope Gerasimos
In our country every year lives are lost that could have been saved. All the research proves that the majority of the Greek society is possessed by a relative ignorance around the subject of organ donation and transplants. From the side of Iulis Menoudakou, head of the EOM Transplantation Coordination Department, says: “We are called upon to provide all the answers to questions that may concern our fellow citizens, such as the conditions that one needs to meet to become an organ donor, the reception and allocation of organs, the times taken to reach recipients and other common queries, e.g. when someone is brain dead does that mean the rest of the body is functioning? What is the difference between brain death and a vegetative state (coma)? Can anyone register as an organ donor? If I have a serious health problem, can I still register as an organ donor? Essentially, we come to cover the important gaps that exist and are the main limiting factors in terms of increasing the supply of organs and the development of transplants.” I ask Ms. Menoudakou to give us some examples. “Many times we are asked if someone who is brain dead can come back to life. And we clearly answer that never in medical history has a patient who has suffered catastrophic damage to his brain stem ever recovered,” he answers.
The “Organmeetings” program is part of the National Initiative for Organ Donation and Transplantation undertaken by the Onassis Foundation with the aim of rebuilding the transplant sector and strengthening the culture of organ donation in Greece. Photo: Penelope Gerasimos
Most importantly, everyone must understand that proper public information leads to the ultimate life offering. In fact, in this field Greece is in last place in Europe and among the last ten countries of the Western world. “Although we are far behind in transplants compared to the rest of Europe, some positive steps have been taken. The good news is that now people are receiving the information with interest. In the past, when we went to squares, public places, concerts, people would see the information forms to fill in their details as organ donors, and there were times when they would give them back to us. You know, it does not mean that the citizens are to blame for the fact that organ donation is at low levels in Greece. Even in Spain, a country that pioneers transplants, citizens have the same knowledge as the average Greek. The difference lies in the approach to the health system and whether the state gives the necessary priority. As you understand, it is not enough that the world is in favor of organ donation, the whole health system must be able to follow.”
The Organmeetings program comes to illuminate and change misconceptions, put an end to conspiracy stories. “The time has come not to be afraid of transplants, not to knock on wood when we hear about organ donation and, of course, for all of us to have the right to a second chance at life, it is important to understand the value of organ donation. It is not possible that last year, in a well-known television program of a high-viewing channel, all the untrue stereotypes were reproduced, creating bad impressions around transplants and organ donation. Therefore, we make an effort aimed not only at awareness but also at valid information. Let as many people as possible rush to see the program. Organizations, screenwriters’ associations, companies, media or troupes to join forces and become part of a great chain of hope and solidarity”, adds Mr. Morellas. Is there a numerical limit of employees or members to participate in the program? “No, there is no minimum or maximum number of participants. For example, a company can participate with 100 or 10 employees, or an association with 3 or 40 members. However, participation in the action should be collective and not individual, by a single person. The certification will be valid and will be awarded even with the minimum participation”, explains the Health Program Manager of the Onassis Foundation.
For some time now, the Onassis Foundation has launched an intensive information campaign with the aim of dispelling the myths and stereotypes surrounding organ donation. Photo: Penelope Gerasimos
Closing our discussion, Mrs. Menoudakou narrates: “Transplantation is the only therapeutic solution for end-stage heart, liver and lung failure and the most effective solution for end-stage renal failure. Informing the public clearly is one of the main steps that must be taken. People have been born again thanks to organ donation. Don’t let myths influence your life and the lives of your fellow human beings.”
The statistics are indicative. In Greece the average waiting time for a kidney transplant is 7-8 years. More than 1,300 of our fellow citizens are on a waiting list for one or more organs. The story of Anastasia Tasoula, the 24-year-old patient with cystic fibrosis, was the one that inspired 21-year-old Emma to decide, before the fatal traffic accident in Thessaloniki, to donate her organs. “What we can do is to all become donors, to have more transplants, but also to get better quality through the procedures in the transplant programs,” said Anastasia, who, through a lung transplant, was reborn. Her first words were: “Mom, I’m coming home. Mom, I’m alive. I made it”.
The “Organmeetings” program is part of the National Initiative for Organ Donation and Transplantation undertaken by the Onassis Foundation with the aim of rebuilding the transplant sector and strengthening the culture of organ donation in Greece.
An important part of this initiative is the construction of the Onassios National Transplant Center, which will be handed over to the state in 2024. Together with the Onassios Cardiac Surgery Center, they will be the first 100% digital hospitals in Greece and two of the first fully digitized in Europe .
More information about the program: www.onassis.org