Weekly Feature

2016-04-06 / Editorials

Awareness, participation benefit from Donate Life Month

Managing Editor

The concept of organ and tissue donation seemed very foreign to me while growing up; almost like something sacrilegious or impure. Yet a couple of decades later, I registered with Unyts to be part of one of the most prominent organ transplant organizations.

April is designated Donate Life Month. Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs has reported a significant increase in the amount of customers to Erie County Auto Bureaus who signed up with the New York State Donate Life Organ and Tissue Donor Registry. He said the number of registrants soared by 62 percent as compared to two years ago.

“It is common to fear the unknown. We hesitate to leave our comfort zone and often avoid making decisions that lead to unknown consequences. These emotions, combined and a lack of experience or knowledge can play a part in your decision to become an organ donor,” according to JustGive, a resource for online charitable giving based in San Francisco.

The success in Erie County is traced to a coordinated campaign between the clerk’s office and Unyts to encourage customers at auto bureaus to consider signing up with the New York State Organ Donation Registry. Through this partnership, auto bureau employees were trained on the significance of organ donations so they could better inform customers.

Throughout New York State, the majority of people who register to be organ donors do so at local Auto Bureaus/DMVs, according to Jacobs.

Anyone can be a donor regardless of age, race or medical history. Many people can be hesitant about organ and tissue donation simply because they do not know enough about the program or were never asked.

By registering as an organ donor, individuals are giving consent for the recovery of organs, tissues and eyes for the purposes of transplantation and research at the time of death. The first and most important step is to discuss your wishes with your family. The next step is to sign up for the national registry.

Unyts reports that one organ and tissue donor has the ability to save and enhance the lives of up to 50 people. That’s remarkable.

NHS Blood and Transplant, an international organization dedicated to saving and improving lives through a wide range of services, achieved a 50 percent increase in organ donation. That helped transform more than 3,100 lives in a one-year period.

There seemed to be some confusion recently about age restrictions when it comes to organ donation. In fact, health care professionals decide which organs and tissue are suitable for donation. Age enters the conversation in only a few instances. Donors cannot be older than 80 for cornea donations and 60 for heart valve and tendon donations. There is no age limit on bone and skin donations. Unyts states that its commitment is to “enhance and save lives through organ, eye, tissue and blood donation while maintaining respect for those who give the Gift of Life.” That, too, is remarkable.

“Unyts, with an ongoing tradition of excellence, strives to be the recognized leader in the multi faceted delivery of exceptional donor-centered organ, tissue, eye and blood donation services to the Western New York community. We will succeed in this endeavor by joining cooperatively with our partners – community resources, donor hospitals, donors, recipients and their families to advance the dynamic Donate Life message.”

As recently as 1997, Unyts had just 200 donors; in 2014 the organization surpassed 1,200.

It’s surprising that the organization only dates back to 1981. The need has never been greater. Unyts estimates that there are nearly 124,000 individuals waiting for transplants and thousands more in need of tissue and corneal transplants. An average of 21 people die each day because an organ was not made available for transplant.

Awareness should begin at an early age. Unyts sponsors Donate Life clubs throughout Western New York, which help alleviate some of the stigma I referenced earlier. Members and guest speakers see the process in more personal terms.

Will you participate in Donate Life Month?

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York. Opinions are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@bee news.com.)

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