On 16th March 2014, a penthouse in Thane caught fire and a young man suffered severe burns in that fire. He sustained 40 percent burns and was transferred from Jupiter Hospital, Thane to the National Burns Centre in agonizing pain.
Skin donated by a deceased donor at the RCBN Skin Bank, NBC was used for his treatment. He made a phenomenal recovery and was home in 42 days. One would think that he would really have a chance at a normal life after that. But after being discharged from the hospital he’s fine and is now is living a normal life. All thanks for the donation of skin from a deceased donor.
The recipient expressed his gratefulness towards the doctors and staff at the National Burns Centre for constantly supporting and encouraging him in the healing process. He urged everyone to “Please donate skin after death so that the life of a burn patient can be saved”.
And this is where things get difficult. We all know about eye donation, and now organ donation is gaining momentum in the country. But people really don’t know anything about skin donation. This is because in India, the cause for eye donation started 30 years ago whereas awareness on Skin Donation has started only 6 years ago. So while people are happy to call the Eye Bank near to collect the corneas of their loved ones after their deaths, very few people even know that they can do the same for skin. And with a skin donation, they can save someone’s life.
Skin that is donated by people upon their deaths is used majorly for burns treatment, and can also be used for diabetic ulcers, sores, accident related trauma to skin, etc. As you can see by the visible effect on the life of the young man, skin donation can prevent serious infections in burn victims and even save their lives.
|Before Grafting||After Grafting|
On an average, skin from two individuals is required to treat one patient. Skin from more than two also may be required in case of extensive burns.
When people pass away in say hospitals in India, no one goes to the families to ask for skin donation. While in Mumbai now transplant coordinators and doctors at various hospitals across Mumbai encourage relatives to donate skin after death, in most other States and hospital, this is not happening.
Here at the National Burns Centre in Mumbai, we have a unique model in India where we go to a person’s house to collect skin after their deaths. (This is not happening in any other city as yet) Majority of skin collections happen at the house where the body is kept. We leave our hospital within 15-20 mins of receiving the call. Upon reaching, the house, we inform the relatives about the procedure, take the death certificate, and get the consent from relatives.
After examining the body, we disinfect (clean) the body (legs, thighs, back-from where skin is harvested) and then harvest the skin and then bandage these regions. We need to clarify here that the skin is only retrieved from the legs, thighs and the back. There is generally no bleeding and obviously no disfigurement (unlike common notion). This entire procedure takes only 45 mins. It’s a “Relative friendly” procedure. Skin is preserved in Glycerol at 4-8 degree Celsius and can be preserved for up to 5 years.
We get about 20 calls a month in Mumbai where people call us home to collect the skin of their relatives. It’s almost 1 call a day.
However we do face major barrier to skin donation. The main one is convincing the General Practitioners about the cause of skin donation so that they can convince the relatives for the same once they declare a person’s death. Most doctors in most hospitals will not even think of telling relatives about skin donation. That needs to actively change. The more doctors ask, the more awareness will spread and eventually everyone will know that this is the norm and you have the option of donating skin.
Another big barrier is of course the lack of awareness in the general public and convincing the lay public due to existing myths and their disbeliefs. State governments all over India need to take up this awareness exercise.
There are several things the governments in various states should do to promote skin donation. They should have the option to donate skin/other organ in vehicle driving license, etc. To make it easier for such organ retrieval, ambulances/vehicles to need to be able to traverse the traffic faster to reach desired locations for harvesting.
And there definitely needs to be a coordinator attached to the ICUs in all hospitals across the city 24*7 to educate relatives and prepare them for not just organs (as is the case now) but also for skin and eye donation.
While we are doing the best that we can in Mumbai, the fact is mostly all over India we have no such system of collecting skin from homes. We hope to rectify that soon. Everyone is just getting exposed to this new concept and people are starting to explore it. It takes time for people (even surgeons, for that matter) to understand then adopt the cause as their own and work constructively towards it. I’m very hopeful that in the next 2-3 years, skin donation will gain momentum and more and more people will realise that it’s a great thing to do.
Skin Donation HELPLINE 022 27793333
For more information on skin donation please read: https://www.organindia.org/ORGAN-DONATION/saving-your-skin/