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Organ, tissue and eye transplants can be a gift of life

All of us at various points in life become reflective about what we will leave behind. Almost all want to be remembered in some specific way by their loved ones, those closest to them and those in the community. No matter how large or small, we all are concerned to varying degrees about our "legacy."

In asking residents of Western New York to register as organ, tissue and eye donors, Upstate New York Transplant Services is asking members of this community to consider their end of life and what they will leave behind. We carry out this charge with the seriousness it warrants, and hold the highest respect and gratitude for the families, loved ones and those who decide to donate and give the gift of life.

In our experience, it has been shown that in this case familiarity leads to comfort, and the more people understand about organ, tissue and eye donation the more assured they are in discussing the issue, registering as donors and communicating their wishes to loved ones and family. After learning that just a single donor can save or enhance the lives of up to 50 people, it is difficult to argue that the more conventional considerations of career achievements or material possessions with which we often associate our legacies could be more important.

The evidence shows that Western New Yorkers understand the importance of such donations. Last year we nearly surpassed 1,000 total donors, with the second-highest number of organ donors in the history of the region. We had increases of 112 tissue donors and 93 eye donors from the 2005 levels. Our 2006 organ conversion rate -- the percent of eligible organ donors whose family or loved ones consented -- was 85.5 percent, ranking us first nationwide among all 58 federally authorized organ procurement organizations.

In 2007, we have added community blood banking to our services. Just as the gift of life can take the form of a donated organ, section of tissue or cornea, it also can take the form of a critical blood transfusion.

Most major religions support organ, tissue and eye donation and those who donate still can have any type of remembrance ceremony they wish. Enrolling in the New York State Donate Life Registry is easy, and can be done through Upstate Transplant Services, the Department of Motor Vehicles when a driver's license is renewed or the state Department of Health.

Currently, more than 96,000 individuals in the United States are awaiting critical transplants, with nearly 500 in Western New York alone. Recipients are forever grateful, and the families and loved ones of donors are able to take comfort in giving the ultimate gift after immense loss. The network of donor families, loved ones and transplant recipients is a close one, and the only thing stronger than their affinity and connection to one another is their strength in spreading the importance of this issue to others.

Mark J. Simon is president and CEO of Upstate New York Transplant Services.

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