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Sometimes, good can come from tragedy - and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania is trying to make that happen more often.

In the last few years, HUP has made a concerted effort to raise its rate of organ donation. For the past two years, HUP's transplant program has received the Medal of Honor from the Department of Health and Human Services for having 75 percent of eligible donors do so.

This marks a significant increase - prior to 2005, figures were in the low 50s, according to Patrick Kim, of Traumatology and Surgical Critical Care at HUP.

Only about half of people nationwide who are eligible to donate do so, according to Beth Reilly, hospital-services coordinator for Gift of Life of Donor Program, which coordinates the donation process in Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.

The organ donation process is a sensitive one that must be dealt with in a delicate yet straightforward manner.

Kim said HUP doctors follow a specific protocol.

"We're taking care of the patient, but at a point, where things are hopeless, it's important to think proactively" about organ donation, he said.

Patients eligible for organ donation are often victims of a serious accident and have suffered head injuries or have had a severe stroke, Kim said. When a patient appears to be a good candidate for organ donation, experts from Gift of Life evaluate the suitability of the potential donor.

Gift of Life also speaks with the families about donation and consent.

Reilly cited the collaboration between HUP and Gift of Life as well as HUP's timely communication with Gift of Life, after recognizing a possible donor as key factors in improving donation rates.

In addition to the responsibilities of heath care professionals, it's also important for the public to know the facts about organ donation, Reilly said.

Kim and Reilly said some common misconceptions about organ donation are that it will be disfiguring, that it may violate certain religious beliefs or that patient care will be compromised.

"I think people have some concern that we won't take care of them as intensely, which is completely false," said Kim. Both Kim and Reilly said that almost every major religion supports organ donation.

However, even if a patient wishes to be an organ donor, that desire will not always be carried out by the family.

"We don't overrule them," Kim said. "A driver's license is not binding."

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