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Erie County notches ‘significant increase’ in people joining organ donation registry

The number of willing organ donors in Erie County has grown as part of a Donate Life campaign at the county Auto Bureau.

Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs announced what he described as a “significant increase” over the last two years in the number of Auto Bureau customers who signed up with the New York State Donate Organ and Tissue Donor Registry.

Over a two-year-period ending last Thursday, the Erie County Auto Bureau signed up 45,565 people. Some 16,718 people signed up over a one-year period ending in March 2014.

Jacobs attributed the increase to a coordinated campaign between the clerk’s office and Unyts, the region’s organ transplant organization, to train Auto Bureau employees about the significance of organ donations so they can better inform customers. The effort also enlisted organ donation ambassadors – who championed the idea of organ donation – at the bureau’s locations across the county.

In New York State, the majority of people who register to be organ donors do so at auto bureaus.

“Through the simple act of checking a box on a DMV form, a life could be saved. We’ll continue to get the word out about this important initiative,” Jacobs said in a statement.

The increase is encouraging news, given that New Yorkers consent to donate organs at the lowest rate in the country, a 2015 University of Pennsylvania and Kansas Hospital study found. Currently, 121,161 people in the U.S. await organ transplants, 8.2 percent of whom reside in New York, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

“It’s really helpful to have people at the Auto Bureau who can talk about the need for donation and answer questions about the process,” said Sarah Diina, director of marketing and development at Unyts.

She said a similar initiative will start soon in Niagara County.

Jacobs’ announcement coincides with National Donate Life Month, instituted in 2003 by Donate Life America, a nonprofit organization that advocates for organ donation.

Lauren’s Law, which was passed in 2012, prohibits a driver’s license application from being processed in New York unless the organ donation section is filled out. Applicants have to check a box stating “yes” or “skip this question.” Prior to the law’s enactment, filling out the organ donation section on the application was optional. The law is named after Lauren Shields of Stony Point, who at age 12 received a life-saving heart transplant in 2009.