Samira Jafari is at home now resting from a surgery that saved a life — not her own, but her colleague’s.
The deputy managing editor of CNN’s investigations unit answered the request for employees to be tested to find a donor for Senior UN Correspondent Richard Roth, who needed a kidney transplant, and found that her blood and tissue was a match.
“It takes a special kind of person to keep another human being alive,” Roth said.
April is National Donate Life Month, and Roth is sharing his story to celebrate Jafari and bring attention to the people still waiting to find a lifesaving donor. That number is more than 100,000 people, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
Living donations may make some people more uneasy than the thought of donating after death, but donation organizations say they are a big part of their efforts. Here’s how you can become an organ donor.
Who can be a donor?
Living donations may be more common than you imagine.
Every year, nearly 6,000 living donations take place, making up nearly 40% of annual donations, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.
Those donations can come in many forms: organs, tissues, bone marrow and blood. Joining a donor registry does not necessarily mean that you will immediately become a donor. Doctors must look for the right match in blood and tissue for their patients, and joining allows them to see if you are the right fit.
Courtesy Samira Jafari
CNN's Samira Jafari saved the life of her colleague, Richard Roth, who needed a kidney transplant, and found that her blood and tissue was a match.
Who can you help?
Donations often come from family members and close friends of the patient, but 70% of patients do not have a fully matched donor in their family, according to Be the Match.
In those cases, doctors often turn to registries to find a donor.
Living donors can give kidneys, a liver lobe, a lung, part of a lung, part of the pancreas or part of the intestines. You can also give skin, bone, bone marrow, blood and platelets, the HRSA said.
How safe is it?
To avoid emotional or physical harm, a transplant center doctor will ensure that living donors are in good health before donating. The HRSA advises that no one who has or has had diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, kidney disease or heart disease become living donors.
Although health risks come with any major surgery, living donors often do well over the long term, the HRSA said.
How do you get started?
The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network lists patients all over the U.S. who are waiting for tissues and organs from someone with whom they are a good match.
There are many resources you can utilize to be added to a registry and potentially become at match for a patient in need.
In the US, there are 57 organ procurement organizations that share information on how to register as a donor and help facilitate the donation process.
You can also register with organizations like Be the Match for bone marrow and the American Red Cross for blood donations.
Registering with Be the Match is easy, according to the organization. All it takes is a few minutes to register online, getting a kit in the mail, swabbing the inside of your cheek and mailing back the sample in a prepaid envelope.
The United Network for Organ Sharing can also help you become a donor. To learn more, contact the network at 888-894-6361.
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Athletes have surely suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy since at least 688 B.C. when boxing was introduced at the Ancient Greek Olympics. Yet it didn’t receive widespread recognition until after the ’00s when Pittsburgh forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu began investigating the link between repeated head trauma among NFL players and the degenerative brain disease. The 2015 film “Concussion,” in which Will Smith played Dr. Omalu as he fought the NFL’s attempts to dismiss his research, raised widespread awareness about the issue. The CTE-linked suicides of NFL stars Junior Seau, Aaron Hernandez, and Andre Waters drew further attention to these dangers.
The NFL finally acknowledged the link in 2016.
CTE is caused by repeated head trauma that often leads to mood and behavioral disorders and dementia. In 2017, researchers found CTE to be a root cause of death in 99% of former NFL players they examined. The league’s response has included new safety rules and improved helmets.
The growing awareness of the disease has led to rules and equipment changes in other contact sports while more than 3,000 athletes pledged to donate their brains for research upon their deaths. HealthMatch has compiled a list of 10 leading active and retired athletes who are among them.
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- Sport: Football
Success has followed Reggie Williams, 67, all his life. He attended Dartmouth on an academic scholarship, where he held a College Hall of Fame career as a linebacker. He went on to record 62 sacks during 14 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, played in two Super Bowls, and twice earned “NFL Man of the Year” honors. He later served on the Cincinnati City Council and was vice president of Disney Sports Attractions.
Severe mood swings convinced Williams he has CTE, and in 2020, he announced he would donate his brain to research. “I want to do anything I can to make football safer and help the next generation of athletes,” he said. “You can’t give up because there are ways to manage [CTE] symptoms and live a healthy life.”
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- Sport: Wrestling
It’s hard to think of what Mark Henry hasn’t done to cement his reputation as a world-class strongman. Henry, 50, is best known as a longtime WWE wrestler with two world titles, but before that, he was a two-time Olympic weightlifter and a world-champion powerlifter who still holds world powerlifting records.
He took a lot of hits during a 25-year WWE career, though, even when he clocks in at 6-foot-4 and 360 pounds. Knowing that, he announced in 2019 he would donate his brain to research. “Maybe it will help with figuring out how things work [including] kids playing sports,” he said.
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- Sport: Soccer
Heading the ball in soccer is as routine as being tackled in football—and maybe even more dangerous in the long term. Abby Wambach headed the ball more than most players.
Research revealing the dangers of repeated head injuries helped convince Wambach, the U.S. Women’s National Team all-time leading scorer, to join teammates Brandi Chastain and Megan Rapinoe in announcing in 2016 that she would donate her brain. A violent collision with a teammate in 2013 resulted in her only diagnosed concussion, and after that, she began heading the ball less often due to CTE concerns. She figures she has suffered “hundreds” of micro-concussions on the field. “I cringe [now] whenever players go up to head a soccer ball,” she said. “I cringe at my former, risk-taking self because we only have this one brain.”
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- Sport: Auto racing
In 2016, the same year that the NFL belatedly acknowledged the football-CTE connection, a star from a very different sport agreed to donate his brain for research. Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew that while head impact isn’t as common in NASCAR racing as it is in contact sports, the crashes are far more dangerous to the brain. His father, after whom he’s named, died in a collision at the Daytona 500 in 2001.
Earnhardt admitted that he raced several times in 2002 with concussions symptoms, which led to NASCAR tightening its policies about clearing concussion-diagnosed drivers for racing. Then 10 years later, Earnhardt suffered apparent concussions in crashes just six weeks apart; he drove off after the second one without getting a diagnosis. Now 47 and semi-retired, Earnhardt won the Daytona 500 twice, in 2004 and 2014.
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- Sport: Rugby
Rugby players have always prided themselves on their toughness. After all, the tackling is similar to football, but rugby players don’t wear helmets (though some wear soft headgear).
British star Steve Thompson, 43, decided to donate his brain for CTE research in September 2021, soon after he was diagnosed with dementia. “It’s up to my generation to pledge our brains so researchers can develop better treatments and ways to make the game safer,” he said.
Last year, World Rugby instituted new guidelines that limit full-contact training to 15 minutes a week and offered brain health care for ex-players. But that didn’t stop Thompson from joining a class-action suit against the organization. Thompson said he doesn’t even remember leading England to the World Cup Rugby title in 2003, the only time a Northern Hemisphere team has won the Cup and the pinnacle of his career. He also claims to have forgotten the name of his wife on more than one occasion.
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- Sport: Football
Football players in the center position absorb many impacts as they are hit almost immediately after hiking the ball. Knowing this, center Matt Birk promised to have his brain donated for research.
The timing of the announcement came just days before the high point of his career when he helped the Baltimore Ravens win the 2013 Super Bowl. He retired three weeks later. “If something happens like you can’t find your car keys,” he said, “you think, ‘Is this from football?’”
The following season, independent neurological consultants were hired by the NFL to oversee sideline concussion evaluations.
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- Sport: Soccer
One of the most memorable photos in sports history shows an elated Brandi Chastain triumphantly clutching her jersey just after her winning penalty kick for the U.S. Women’s Soccer team in their 1999 World Cup thriller over China. The game was held at the Rose Bowl in front of 90,000 fans, including then-president Bill Clinton, and 40 million U.S. TV viewers.
“I loved heading the ball,” she said 21 years later, “and there wasn’t anybody around saying, ‘Hey, you might not want to do that.’” There are now, which is why she joined teammates in announcing in 2016 that she would posthumously donate her brain to science.
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- Sport: Auto racing
Don Schumacher became concerned about the health of the NHRA drag racing team he led: In 2018, he convinced all seven of his drivers to join him in pledging to posthumously donate their brains. It was the biggest group in any sport to simultaneously make such a pledge to the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
In keeping with his reputation as a pioneer in promoting safety measures in the sport, Schumacher said he and his Schumacher Racing teammates—one of the most winningest teams in NHRA history—did so in the hope that it might help drivers, soldiers, and anyone else whose vocations or avocations put the health of their brains at risk. Schumacher and his son Tony are two of the most accomplished drag racers in history.
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- Sport: Football
The recent attention on the mental health struggles of tennis star Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles was preceded a decade ago by the case of Jonathan Martin. In a scandal that broke in 2014, the Miami Dolphins tackle revealed his teammates bullied him so viciously he contemplated suicide, had to be hospitalized for emotional distress, and ultimately left the NFL after just three seasons.
Martin, who was also a standout lineman at Stanford, later told The New York Times: “When I was playing, no one talked about mental health.”
He has struggled with anxiety, depression, and mood swings since retiring from football, which he partially attributes to CTE damage caused by 13 years of absorbing hits in football. He announced in October 2021 that he would donate his brain for research.
Julian Finney // Getty Images
- Sport: Bobsled
By winning silver in the monobob and bronze in the two-woman bobsled at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, Elana Meyers Taylor became the most decorated Black athlete in Winter Olympics history. Competing at age 37 in Beijing, it was the fourth straight Games where she won at least one medal.
But the intense G-forces and risk of crashing on the bobsled make it a hazardous sport, which prompted Meyers Taylor to announce at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics—along with four-time U.S. ice hockey medalist Angela Ruggiero and five-time Canadian ice hockey medalist Hayley Wickenheiser—to donate her brain for CTE research.
“A concussion nearly ended my career in 2015,” said Meyers Taylor. “And I wish I had known more about the risks of returning [to competition] too quickly. The long-term consequences of brain trauma are a major concern in sports, and I’m doing this for every athlete who will follow in my footsteps.”
This story originally appeared on HealthMatch and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.