Age no barrier to organ donation


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am an 80-year-old woman who declares herself an organ donor every time she renews her driver’s license. Is there a cutoff age when organs are not longer usable? — D.W.

ANSWER: If more people felt the way you do, the long lists of patients waiting for organ transplants would disappear. More than 100,000 people are waiting for an organ, but only around 25,000 organs are actually donated yearly.

The answer to your question is that you are never too old to be a donor. The acceptability of an organ is determined at the time of a volunteer’s death

Signing the organ donation request on your driver’s license is an excellent idea. However, it’s most important to get your name on your state’s organ registry. That department is notified at the time of your death. Your local public health officials should aid you in finding out how this is done. A nearby hospital most likely has an organ procurement official who also can guide you in this process. Carry with you the organ donation card that will come your way when you sign up. Make sure you tell your relatives of your desire to donate. Often, at the time of death, neither a person’s driver’s license nor organ donation card is with him or her when the next of kin is asked for permission to obtain organs.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services has a Web site,, and a toll-free phone number, 888-275-4772, where you can obtain information on how to donate organs. The Living Bank, a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging organ donors, has a Web site,, and a toll-free number, 800-528-2971, where information also is obtainable.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I would like to know more about reflex sympathetic dystrophy, now called complex regional pain syndrome. My wife’s doctor said it would take her 12 months to get over it. I retired four years ago and am now having trouble walking, and the trouble worsens every year. — F.W.

ANSWER: If you’re suggesting that your walking problem is complex regional pain syndrome, it most likely is not.

CRPS occurs after an injury, like a sprained ankle or a broken wrist, for example. When the injured patient develops CRPS, the pain doesn’t go away in the usually expected time span. The pain often worsens, and swelling and reddened skin remain for months — three or more. Then the skin takes on a shiny appearance, and pain persists. This phase lasts another three or more months. In the final phase, the skin thins, swelling leaves, adjacent muscles wither and the pain lingers. The hand or foot can become contorted in a bent position. Adjacent bones lose their calcium.

This is a nightmare for both patient and doctor. A reflex arc between the injury site and the brain causes the persistent pain and other changes. Physical and occupational therapy, when started early, often can terminate this process more rapidly. About 75 percent of CRPS patients are free of pain in a year or so. Pain medicines, quite naturally, are essential elements in treatment. I don’t know what’s causing your walking trouble.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: The story of the young girl with daily headaches is familiar to me. My wife had the same problem for many years. She compared ingredients of two similar foods, but different brands. She would get a headache eating one but not the other. The difference was that the headache-causing brand had sulfites in it. She carefully looked for sulfites in all her foods and eliminated them. She hasn’t had a headache since. — G.L.

ANSWER: Thanks for the information. Sulfites are preservatives added to some foods. They’re often in red wines. Asthma is the most frequent reaction in people who are allergic to sulfites. However, some people do get a migrainelike headache. Readers will appreciate this tip.

The headache booklet deals with the common kinds of headaches. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 901, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32353-6475. Enclose a check or money order for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Delivery takes four weeks.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from