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Donate life: April is organ donor month

Falling 4

Sue Hirsheimer participates in a recent fall prevention class at Thrive: A Wellness Center in Sierra Vista. Thrive is working to get people to sign up as organ and tissue donors. April is organ donor month, and the wellness center has multiple events aimed at getting people to enroll as organ donors.

One organ donor can save up to eight lives. A tissue donor could save upwards of 75 people.

There are more than 3.5 million registered organ and tissue donors in Arizona, and in this state alone over 2,000 are currently waiting to receive life-saving organ transplants.

April is recognized as National Donate Life Month, a time to remember those who helped someone else live and to encourage more people to register as donors.

Donate Life America, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the number of cornea, tissue and organ donors, created the month in 2003 and offer a series of local, regional and national activities throughout April to help the public register.

Nico Santos, media relations coordinator for Donate Life Arizona, said April offers everyone an opportunity to see the significance in becoming donors.

“Organ donation, in general in Arizona, we have done the testing and it takes about an average of 38 seconds to become a donor,” he said. “This decision that you can make in such a short time, even if it is only one recipient, that one decision does transform the world.”

Santos said registering as a donor is very simple and that most people simply do it through their local Department of Motor Vehicles, though there are alternative methods to register.

“It doesn’t matter which route you choose, it’s always easy,” he said of registration. “More than 95 percent register through their (DMV) office location when they get their state ID or driver’s license, they just check ‘yes.’

“We do have a website that gives people another opportunity to register and our relationship with ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation) continues to improve service.”

According to Santos, the majority of Arizonans see organ, tissue and cornea donation as a positive thing, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to people registering.

He said only a little over half of the adults in the state are actually registered donors.

Along with registering on their own, people have outreach opportunities this month to help them through the process.

On Monday, Thrive: a Wellness Center, located in Canyon Vista Medical Center, hosted a donor event called “One Big Day.”

It served as a chance for Sierra Vista and Cochise County residents to register, learn about organ and tissue donations and honor those who have passed away and saved lives by being donors.

Thrive coordinator Ericka Sullins said the whole idea around the event was to educate others.

“The main idea behind it is to bring awareness to people on organ donation, tissue, eyes, skin, everything that can be donated, how you go about it, what’s the timeline, how much time it takes and also serve as a time to register to be an organ donor,” she said.

The event brought in a Donate Life Arizona representative to answer questions.

Sullins has felt the impact of organ donation in her own life.

Her cousin passed away over a year ago as a result of cancer and it was her cousin’s wish to donate her organs.

“Her biggest dream was to become an organ donor, thinking, ‘I’m not using it, I don’t need it,’” Sullins said. “The cancer beat her body down so badly, nobody thought she’d be able to do donation but then we got a letter that said she would be able to donate her corneas.

“Lo and behold, they could use her eyes and a 23-year-old got them. Now her eyes are looking through someone else’s perspective. It made a difference in someone’s life.”

Santos said it’s not uncommon for a family who has just lost a loved one to find comfort and pride knowing that their family member was able to help someone else; that their heart still beats somewhere, or that their eyes are allowing someone to witness the beauty of the world.

“It’s a nice feeling for the family, it takes the edge off the grief and it’s so amazing the ripple effect it can have,” he said. “Saying, ‘Yes, I’m going to register,’ not only heals people, it heals family and they (families) are proud and intrigued to learn about recipients.

“It’s a profound experience and decision.”

When someone opts to become a donor, they are added to the Donor Network of Arizona (DNA), who work closely with hospitals to ensure donations make the highest impact possible.

If a donor passes away, the hospital looks at the national waiting list and matches the donor with recipients based on need and proximity.

When someone passes who is not registered, the family has the option to make that choice.

“If someone is not registered, it’s a next-of-kin decision,” Santos said. “That’s another reason we encourage people to register, so there’s one less decision for a grieving family to make during a traumatic time in their lives.”

Thrive will hold another donor registration opportunity at the hospital cafeteria on April 24 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

For more information on organ, cornea and tissue donations, or to register online, visit www.donatelifeaz.org.

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