Are you a donor?
NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn celebrated National Donate Life Month through a flag-raising ceremony on April 9, hoping to raise awareness and encourage Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors. The event was in collaboration with LiveOnNY, an organization that advocates for organ donor registration.
“I can tell you personally, having taken care of dialysis patients for all my life, I have seen patients die on the list waiting for an organ. I have seen patients whose lives are transformed from having gotten an organ,” Dr. Joseph Weisstuch, the hospital’s chief medical officer, said in his remarks at the event. He explained that with greater registration, patients would not need to wait as long for transplants, and organs would be less likely to come from people who are otherwise healthy and do not need operations.
“It’s an opportunity to live on beyond your life,” he said.
New York State ranks last in the nation in the percent of residents registered as organ donors, according to the hospital, with only 31 percent of residents registered as organ donors compared to 56 percent nationwide. There are currently 9,355 New Yorkers waiting for life-saving organ transplants, and they are likely to wait three to five years for a transplant. Meanwhile, nationally, patients usually wait one or two years for a transplant.
Elizabeth Douglas, co-chair of the hospital’s Organ Donor Council and a nurse, told a story during the event about a woman she has worked with the previous week who had suffered cardiac arrest and was brain dead.
Douglas explained that while the woman was a registered organ donor, her family was devastated and uncomfortable with the prospect of donation. However, the family soon came to terms with the woman’s decision as something she wanted, and found hope in her ability to live on through the people her organs would help.
“At the end of life, you can make really beautiful gifts, so we’re hoping to get something good out of an otherwise tragic event,” said Dr. Jennifer Frontera, the other co-chair of the Organ Donor Council and the hospital’s chief of neurology, in an interview.
The hospital also invited Robert Seeback, a heart transplant recipient, to speak at the ceremony and play guitar. Seeback works with Transplant Recipients International Organization (TRIO) to advocate for organ donor registration.
“We tell people there are three things you can do with your organs. You can put them in the ground — put a nice stone and some flowers next to it. You can get cremated and put them in an urn. Put them on a shelf. Or, you can donate them, and give life to somebody else,” he said.
Seeback became emotional as he described how the heart from a 17-year-old girl allowed him to continue to live on and have twin boys afterward.
The end of the ceremony saw the special flag raised at the entrance of the hospital, heralding the official start for the month.