By Mark Simon
Recent coverage by The Buffalo News has noted the distressingly low number of people on the New York State Donate Life Registry. July’s statistics show that just 27.7 percent of eligible New York State residents were registered as organ donors. Unyts is the organ procurement organization for Western New York, where 37.8 percent of adults are registered donors.
However, those low registry numbers don’t reflect the actual generosity of Western New York families. When a loved one has the opportunity to be an organ donor, most families say yes. This year, 79 percent of families approached by Unyts said yes when they had the chance to give the gift of life.
That generosity has allowed local patients to receive kidney and pancreas transplants at ECMC, home to the Regional Center of Excellence for Transplantation and Kidney Care. Organs given by Western New York donors have also saved the lives of dozens of other patients in New York and other parts of the country this year alone.
The need for organ donors is a national public health crisis. More than 120,000 people are waiting for a lifesaving transplant. Tragically, an average of 22 people die each day because the organs they were waiting for never became available. We at Unyts find that number unacceptable.
Donation should be a cultural norm, and we are working toward that goal with the support of more than 1,500 community partners.
Religious organizations, colleges, hospitals and government agencies all help to spread the word about the need for donors. The Erie and Niagara county clerks partner with Unyts to train auto bureau staff. More than 70 local high schools have Donate Life Clubs, through which students learn about organ, eye, tissue and blood donation and conduct a public awareness campaign. Area faith communities host speakers who have a personal connection to donation and transplantation. Instructors at the University at Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo State and Canisius College facilitated student-run campaigns on campus this past spring. Police and fire departments and public libraries host and promote donor registry events.
Civic organizations, local businesses and individual volunteers all help to share information regarding donation, dispel myths and provide the opportunity to join the registry.
A single organ donor can save up to eight lives. An eye and tissue donor can enhance 50 lives. The individuals and families who generously give the gift of life are true heroes.
Those who wish to register as donors can begin the process by visiting Unyts.org/CheckYes. Together, we can save lives and give hope to those who are waiting.
Mark Simon is president and CEO of Unyts, the organ procurement organization serving the eight counties of Western New York.