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Heitkamp: One decision can save lives

By Staff | Apr 28, 2017

In our day-to-day lives, we don’t think much about organ transplants, beyond perhaps checking the donor box on our driver’s license at the DMV every few years.

Until something hits us personally, life-or-death issues like organ donation aren’t at the top of our minds. But Gail Hand, who manages my Grand Forks office, knows that can change overnight-especially when you learn that someone you love needs a transplant to survive.

Last month, Gail headed to California to donate a life-saving kidney to her nephew Tom. Gail says that it wasn’t a tough decision, either: Tom is the father of an adorable four-year-old son who, as Gail put it, deserves to have a dad.

With her usual good humor, she downplayed the significance of the donation when she told her coworkers that she would be out of the office for the month. “I’m told I’ll miss you all more than I’ll miss my left kidney,” she said.

April is National Donate Life Month, a celebration of local, regional and national efforts to encourage folks to register as organ, eye and tissue donors. It’s a chance to honor living donors who give selflessly to help those they love, and a chance to remember those who have passed away, and whose donation helped someone they’ll never get to meet.

Over 117,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list in the U.S. and a new person is added every 10 minutes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. So while we may not think about organ donation every day, this month provides an opportunity to pause and think about what a tremendous impact those donations have-and hopefully it’s also an opportunity to sign up to be an organ donor.

Gail is recovering well, and so is Tom-and their story of giving such an incredible gift is far from unusual. Of the 30,000 transplants each year in the U.S., one in five is from a living donor like Gail-a family member or loved one, sometimes even a stranger, who gives something of themselves to save a life.

If you have a North Dakota driver’s license, there’s a 70 percent chance you’re registered as an organ donor already. That’s a number everyone in our state should be proud of. It’s much higher than countrywide, where only half of folks are registered as donors.

Checking that simple box at the DMV can make a huge difference, as families across North Dakota know. In North Dakota alone, there are about 166 candidates for organ donations on waiting lists, according to HHS. Last year, 33 North Dakota donors helped to save lives with a transplant.

Organ donation makes such a difference in the lives of others-and it shows just how interconnected we are. Living donors give an incredible gift, and so do families who, in the middle of sorrow and tragedy, decide to give the gift of life to another family by helping dying loved ones become a donor.

A single donor can make a huge impact: One person’s organs alone can save eight lives, providing hope for eight families. One person’s corneas can restore sight in two people, and one person’s tissue can help heal up to 75 people, according to Donate Life America.

And a tiny decision, like checking a box at the DMV, is all it takes. According to Donate Life America, 95 percent of Americans are in favor of being a donor-and yet only 54 percent of us are registered.

We can change that, and that small change can save lives. Visit DonateLifeND.org to learn more about how you can become a donor today.

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