SUNSET PARK — It was all about the gift of life as NYU Langone Hospital hosted its annual Organ Donor Enrollment Day on Thursday, Oct. 10 in the hospital’s main lobby at 150 55th Street in Sunset Park.
The hospital has partnered with LiveOnNY in a bid to encourage people to increase lifesaving donor rolls in New York, which is ranked among the lowest in the country for organ donations.
The goal was to enroll as many New Yorkers as possible in a single day. Speaking on behalf of the miracle of organ donation was Stephen Feldheim, a 70-year-old organ recipient from Windsor Terrace, who had a heart transplant 20 years ago.
“I was 48 years old and sick for about two years at the time. I was still playing football and softball with younger guys but I started slowly to go downhill,” Feldheim told this paper. “I used to have a three-mile walk to MetroTech to work and noticed I was getting out of breath. Actually, my first cardiologist told me, ‘I don’t know what else I can do for you. You just have to accept that you’re going to die.”
Feldheim went to a different cardiologist who enrolled him in the transplant program. Within a month, a heart became available. “It was a 16-year-old girl who was the donor,” explained Feldheim. “It was an unexpected death; she was not ill but had the foresight to tell her parents that if anything ever happened to her, she wanted to donate her organs.” Feldheim said he was fortunate to have received her heart, had a great recovery and was out of the hospital in eight days.
“The only thing I’d say is if you’re not an organ donor, please do so. There are a lot of lives you can save and I know we all like to be proud of New York,” added Feldheim.
LiveOnNY has blanketed the community by partnering with hospitals, medical centers, transplant centers, colleges and businesses in hopes of getting people to enroll. “We at LiveOnNY are really excited about today’s event,” Safiya Raheem, director of community and government affairs at LiveOnNY, told this paper.
“We know that 92 percent of New Yorkers agree that organ donation is really important in helping save lives,” Raheem said. “But only 35 percent of us have taken that extra step to become registered donors. So today is really about being out in the community, providing an education opportunity, and clearing up myths and misconceptions about organ donation to empower people to take that next step and become life-saving registered donors.”
Hospital Services Specialist Kaileen Puppo added that “the national average of registered organ donors is 56 percent, putting us in 50th place, which is dead last.”
Jose Hernandez, vice president peri-operative services, is on the organ donor committee at NYU Langone. He also has a vested interest being the brother of an organ recipient, and he called organ donation life-saving, life-changing and life-altering. “My sister was diagnosed with Polycystic kidney disease, lost function in both her kidneys and was on renal dialysis for six and a half years,” he explained.
Hernandez continued, “By the grace of God a young, 23-year-old man donated his organs and saved her life eight years ago today.”
TO mark Organ Donor Enrollment Day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement supporting organ donor programs like LiveOnNY, and urging New York State residents to enroll. In a statement he explained that according to the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, nearly 10,000 New Yorkers are among the 113,000 Americans currently awaiting an organ transplant. Nationally, 20 people each day die while awaiting a match for a transplant, according to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. A person is added to the wait list every 10 minutes, but one donor can save as many as eight lives.
“New York State has made it easier than ever to become an organ donor,” said Cuomo. “Now when you’re signing up for health insurance or renewing your license, you have a chance to potentially save a life by simply checking a box.”
For more information about organ donation, go to liveonny.org