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Another Voice: More New Yorkers need to become organ donors

By Thomas Jasinski Jr.

As a double organ transplant recipient, I’d like to congratulate my friends and colleagues at Donate Life New York State and our state legislators for their role in growing the state organ donor registry.

As founder of ONE8FIFTY, which seeks to increase the organ donor registry in New York, I am pleased to have the spotlight focused on this vital topic. It’s a matter of life and death. However, there is still a long way to go.

Every organ donor has the potential to save the lives of up to eight people via organ donation and positively impact at least 50 others through tissue donation. So there is reason to celebrate the fact that now, more than ever, New Yorkers are choosing to donate life.

New York has consistently ranked in the bottom five states in the country for the percentage of population registered as organ donors. As a result, every year 400 state residents die after failing to receive a lifesaving organ, and an equal number become too ill to remain viable transplant candidates.

In a meeting with the state Health Department praising its public service announcement campaigns for breast cancer, antismoking and drug and alcohol addiction, I asked why organ donation was not included in the campaign. Their response was they lacked the funds. With a state budget of $170 billion I found that hard to believe.

Because of long-held stigma, politicians too queasy to take responsibility, and underrepresentation in marketing campaigns, our neighbors who are in dire need of an organ go unseen and unheard.

Maybe I’m too passionate about this issue; unlike many who work in this field, I know what it feels like to wait 23 months for an organ. I know what it’s like to have to choose between my daughter’s wedding and saying yes to a new kidney.

To put the statistics in perspective, over the past decade, New York State has increased its registration rate by about 10 percent. In 2014 alone, the region encompassing Texas and Oklahoma increased donor registration by 19 percent, leading to a 10 percent increase in transplants.

My life has been dictated by probabilities – the probability that I’ll receive an organ before I die; the probability I’ll pull through any of the dozen procedures and surgeries I underwent prior to receiving my organs; the probability my donated organs will not last the rest of my life. As a result, I know that even when it seems that an achievement is improbable, it pays to keep hoping and move forward.

I am living improbability. So, though the challenge looms large, if we all pull together, we can save lives. That will be the time we can all celebrate.

Thomas Jasinski Jr. is founder and executive director of ONE8FIFTY a nonprofit that advocates for organ donation and transplant patients.

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