Back in 1987, I was a young cardio-surgeon in the Santariškių hospital in Vilnius. That year, the destiny brought me to the first ever heart transplant operation performed in the Baltic States.

I can still see the image when I close my eyes: the intensity and concentration, colleagues with heart in their hands, hours of work in unfamiliar circumstances, the technology and equipment of those days… We all felt that something big was happening there.

For us, medical doctors, the road to this experience was long and winding. At first, in the USSR, the idea of heart transplantation and organ donation was warmly welcomed. But then, after series of failures, the decision by Moscow was not to pursue. Professor A. Marcinkevičius, the brightest medical mind, fought hard to get the official consent to perform such an operation in Lithuania and he managed against all odds.

I will never forget that night. It was a unique experience for a young professional and no less profound for a human-being. It’s a dramatic and deep process that cannot leave you unaffected.  On the one hand, families need to take difficult decisions. On the other hand, there is a person waiting to be saved. In that particular case, the first donor was a young woman who lost her life in a motorcycle accident. Her closest family – grandmother - had to take an unprecedented decision. After the transplantation, she came to see the professor. She stayed for an hour and she left calm and confident that her decision, taken in the tragic circumstances, gave hope that somebody else would live.

On European Organ Donation Day, I would like to honour and thank each and every organ donor and their families, as well as transplantation professionals throughout Europe whose hard work helps to build hope and save lives.

Today, I would like to ask you to raise the issue with your families, your friends and colleagues, so that they are able to ask questions and have a proper reflection in advance. We can remind them that somebody out there goes to bed and wakes up waiting for a telephone call. We can tell them that somebody is living today because of this altruistic, humanitarian act that is accessible to us all.  We all could help save a life by letting our family know our decision. Let them know today.

For more information:

For information on EU legislation on standards of quality and safety of human organs intended for transplantation, please see:

http://ec.europa.eu/health/blood_tissues_organs/organs/index_en.htm

See our Infographic on organs, blood, tissues & cells in the EU:

http://ec.europa.eu/health/blood_tissues_organs/docs/infographic_obtc_en.pdf

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