April is “donate life month” in Michigan

DETROIT, Mich. –  Secretary of State Ruth Johnson officially kicked off Donate Life month today, but said more work remains, even though nearly one million Michiganians have signed up to become potential donors in the last two years, and the state now has over three million people on the Donor Registry.

“We’re here at Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit because Wayne County is home to a third of the people in Michigan who are waiting for a transplant,” said Johnson. “To put it in real numbers, 1,000 Wayne County residents are waiting for a life-saving phone call right now. That phone call will only come if people are willing to be on the Organ Donor Registry.”

Johnson was joined by Rich Pietroski, CEO for Gift of Life Michigan; Dr. Reginald Eadie, president of DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital; organ recipients; those who are waiting for an organ and family members whose loved ones donated organs to save the lives of strangers.

Eadie, the youngest-ever Detroit Medical Center hospital president who was also named one of the 25 most influential black physicians in Detroit in 2011, was honored with a Secretary of State “Shining Star” award for championing organ donation. He has worked extensively with everyone from local fraternities to the Gift of Life Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP) and the Triumph Church to promote organ donation.

“Life is a precious gift,” Eadie said. “Too many people die each year waiting for organs that never come. But we have the power to change that. Organ and tissue donation is a very important cause that is dear to my heart. I’m humbled and honored to receive this award from the Secretary of State.”

Marietta Elly, of Detroit, who is waiting for a kidney and spends four days a week on dialysis, talked about her experiences as did Dick Deighton, of Royal Oak, a cornea recipient, who can now read to his grandchildren.

“I am one of almost 3,100 people waiting for transplants in Michigan,” said Elly. “Because of the increase in registration since 2011, I have more hope today than ever that a kidney will come for me one day soon.”

“As my vision decreased, I compensated by driving less and reading less,” said Deighton. “In many ways, my world became smaller. My two cornea transplants re-gifted me with my daily life. I have daily gratitude for the gift that was given to me by the generosity of two donors and their families.”

Johnson made huge changes in the way the Secretary of State’s office approached organ donation after she was elected in 2010. Working with her partners like Gift of Life Michigan and the Michigan Eye-Bank, she created an advisory task force, put organ donor reminders on widely-used SOS forms, enlisted social media and directed employees to ask customers if they wanted to sign up on Michigan’s Organ Donor Registry.

Those efforts, at very little cost, were responsible for record-breaking expansion of the organ donor rolls, as nearly one million people signed up to become potential donors in 2011 and 2012.

Today is also Donate Life Day, formerly known as “Buddy Day.”  More than 200 volunteers from Gift of Life Michigan, the Michigan Eye-Bank, and the Michigan Lions Clubs will visit nearly every Secretary of State branch office across the state to tell their stories. These volunteers have a personal connection to organ donation, either as recipients, family and friends of donors or people currently waiting for an organ.

Michigan currently has 3,100 people on the organ transplant waiting list.  According to national statistics, 18 people die each day from the lack of available organs for transplant. However, one donor can save up to 8 lives and enhance the lives of up to 50 people.

Anyone can join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry by visiting www.Michigan.gov/sos or any Secretary of State branch office. Those who sign up receive a heart emblem for their driver’s license that indicates their decision to be an organ donor. A new card with a permanent heart emblem is issued at renewal time.