THE probability of a Californian who needs an organ transplant actually getting one improves dramatically, starting today.

It is a new era for organ donations and transplants in the Golden State, thanks to the Donate Life California Organ and Tissue Donor Registry, a databank of donors being created and administered by the state's four designated organ-procurement organizations. In Northern and Central California, that's the California Transplant Donor Network based in Oakland.

Henceforth, there will be an official registry of persons who, when they die, have volunteered to donate vital organs and tissue so others may live.

No fewer than 88,000 Americans need transplants. Seventeen die daily because of the lack of available organs. About twenty percent, or 18,000, of those on the waiting list are Californians, including 8,000 in central and northern parts of the state who need kidneys, livers, hearts, lungs, small bowels, pancreases and soft tissues such as corneas, skin and arteries. The organs and tissue of each person on a registry can potentially save eight lives and enhance 50 others.

To become a donor, register at either the English-language site — http://www.donateLIFECalifornia.org — or one in Spanish — http://www.doneVIDAcalifornia.org.

The registry was approved in 2001 when Senate Bill 108, authored by Sen. Jackie Speier,

D-Hillsborough, became law.


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Like other good ideas dependent on state funds, however, it has been in fiscal limbo the past few years as Sacramento tussled with unending deficits.

Concerned that it might never be funded, Speier in 2003 sponsored SB 112, switching responsibility for the registry from the budget-bound bureaucracy to the quartet of not-for-profit OPOs. It was a wise move.

Where the state proposed spending $400,000 to study a registry, the nonprofits skipped the navel-gazing step and set one up for a far more economical $4,000.

Which brings us to those pink "donor dots" on the driver's licenses of people wishing to donate organs. The myth is that once you signed up to be a donor at the Department of Motor Vehicles, your name and data went into a central registry. Not so. There never was such a registry, making it uncertain that such preferences were noticed or honored.

Donor networks say less than 10 percent of the driver's licenses with dots are produced when needed. Often the person dying doesn't have a license along when brought to a hospital, and relatives don't always know that the individual signed up to donate organs.

Persons who have signed up with the DMV now need to join the registry to make sure their wish is honored. SB 689, also sponsored by Speier, will be the subject of a public hearing Tuesday in Sacramento. It designates DMV as another place to register for the donor database. But, DMV participation is a long way off. For now, online registration at donateLIFECalifornia.org is the only available option.

Information in the registry is to be kept confidential and accessible only to authorized organ- and tissue-recovery personnel. Those who register also may have friends and family members notified of their wish, clearing a common hurdle.

Donate Life seeks to register 150,000 donors this year. Its success will limit the hit-and-miss nature of organ donations. Californians needing transplants and wishing to donate organs have a much higher probability of success.

Speier is "elated that this day of hope has arrived," noting that the registry increases the chance that Mia Herndon, age 1, will survive and lead a productive life. The youngster from Paradise is currently staying in San Francisco as she awaits both a new kidney and liver.

A statewide organ donor registry is long overdue. Matching donors and recipients should be easy and reliable. It can save lives and is well worth the surprisingly few dollars it has taken to establish the registry.