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Death. It is not an easy subject to talk about, especially if it is your own. But that is exactly what prospective organ donors should do.

Nationwide, about 41,000 people are awaiting organ transplants. Every day about eight people die waiting. Sometimes these are people we know. Most are waiting for kidneys. Livers, hearts and lungs are also in great demand.

Mid-America Transplant Services of St. Louis recently opened a branch in Jackson in hopes of boosting organ, tissue and eye donations in Southeast Missouri. Gary Anderson, who directs the office, says about half the usable human organs that could be donated are not.

Many people don't understand the transplant process. Others simply cannot think about it at their height of grief. It is understandable. It is also why family members should discuss their wishes now.

The back of Missouri driver's licenses contains a place to check for organ donation along with a date and a place for two witnesses to sign. Living wills also offer an opportunity for potential donors to express their wishes.

But neither of these methods are legally binding. By law, the next of kin must consent to organ donations. Family knowledge about organ donation is imperative.

Time is also a consideration. To remain viable, donations typically must be made within 8 to 12 hours of death. Donation is possible whether burial or cremation is chosen. Families can still choose an open-casket funeral, and the medical procedure shouldn't delay funeral services.

Donors can range from full-term babies to senior citizens. Livers of donors over the age of 80 have been successfully transplanted, because livers don't age the way other organs do. While health problems may rule out certain organs for donations, individuals could still give tissue or corneas. Everyone can be a donor.

In some parts of the country, organ donations have risen in recent months with the publicity surrounding baseball great Mickey Mantle's liver transplant. But donations in the Midwest have remained level.

Donor families typically feel that donations are a way for loved ones to live on. Families will receive written notice from the Mid-America Transplant with general demographic information about the recipients, such as age, occupation and sex. This information can prove very comforting at a time when grief can be overwhelming.

The transplant group encourages people to "Share Your Life, Share Your Decision." Organ donation is a chance for everyone to make a real difference and save lives. It is a legacy each one of us can leave.