The statistics are staggering. More than 100,000 people in the United States are in need of an organ transplant, yet only 26,000 transplantations occurred last year. Among those awaiting an organ, more than 9,000 reside in New York, and due to the shortage of available organs, approximately 19 people across the nation die each day. The greatest hope for those left wondering and waiting is that a compatible heart, lung, kidney or liver will become available for them.
In order to positively raise the odds, Montefiore Medical Center established the Montefiore Organ and Tissue Donation Initiative, a program designed to heighten organ donation awareness among its 16,000 associates and 1.4 million Bronx residents. "My responsibility is to promote organ and tissue donation in house and in the community," notes Leo Trevino, Manager of the Organ and Tissue Donation Initiative. "The campaign is a twofold effort to increase awareness and the enrollment on the New York State Donor Life Registry."
Since its inception in 2007, approximately 350 Montefiore Medical Center employees have committed to be an organ donor, and from 2007 to 2008, the New York Donor Network Registry leaped from 36,325 individuals from the Bronx to 45,529 - an increase of more than 9,000 community residents signing up to help save a life.
"It's a great opportunity to give back to humanity after you're gone," notes Beatrice Morales from Montefiore Medical Center's Human Resources Department, who recently signed up. "I never thought about organ donation before, but Leo's presentation opened my eyes and he facilitated the process."
"What I do is plant the awareness seed," Trevino explains. "Our staff members are on board with the mission, so they go out into their churches, clubs, and influences and promote donation. They are also talking to their loved ones about their decision to donate. This program is about empowering our employees and residents of the Bronx with knowledge."
The New York Donor Network is the local organ procurement organization that works closely with the Montefiore Organ and Tissue Donation Initiative. Operating under the UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) umbrella, the New York Organ Donor Network determines organ allocation and matches through several variables such as blood type, age, severity of condition, etc.
"When I tell New York residents that the organs are distributed through the New York Organ Donor Network, there is a sense of relief. Because it's an outside agency making these decisions, they are assured that our doctors have no influence whatsoever on the matching process."
When the appropriate time arrives to discuss end-of-life choices, a family specialist from the New York Organ Donor Network will interact with family members about what a donor has expressed in his or her life. Most families respect the donor's decision, but Trevino says he often hears comments such as, "My mom never mentioned anything about it" or "We never talked about organ donation." This often leads to many questions - and misconceptions - about donating organs and tissue. For example, there is no age limit for registering as an organ donor. Plus if a donor has a pre-existing condition such as glaucoma or diabetes, no one is ruled out until he or she is deemed medically unsuitable.
Past history should be expressed on the registry, but the New York Donor Network determines if he or she is an appropriate candidate for donation. Additionally, family members frequently raise questions about organ or tissue donation charges; however, all costs associated with the process are the responsibility of the recovery organization, so relatives can be assured that they will not pay any money to fulfill their loved one's wishes to donate their organs.
"You are helping humanity by becoming an organ donor," Trevino encourages. "You are passing on the gift of life. You are helping a stranger with an unconditional gift. That's the reason why so many are so eager to become a donor. And it makes the grieving process much easier to deal with for family members.
"My philosophy is: we all have the opportunity to save a life. It's the human thing to do and it's in our nature to help someone who is dying. Do it in the name of saving a life."
Learn more about Organ Donation at Montefiore.