Give the gift of life

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson officially kicked off Donate Life month Tuesday, 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 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.”

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.

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 eight lives and enhance the lives of up to 50 people.

Anyone can join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry by visiting 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.

Some common questions about organ donation include:

Q: Who can become a donor?

Anyone is a potential donor despite age or medical conditions, so please don’t rule yourself out. There’s no age limit for organ donation (Michigan has successfully transplanted the organs of donors in their 90s). Some medical conditions could make your heart or kidneys non transplantable, for example, but your pancreas or liver could help someone on the waiting list. Donors with some medical conditions, such as hepatitis or HIV, are able to save or prolong the lives of waiting patients with the exact same diagnosis. Medical criteria for organ donation changes as medical advances occur; and a physician evaluates all potential donors at the time of death to determine what can be used to help others.

Because of the critical need for organs, more people are deciding to become living donors. Most living donors offer a kidney to save a life but part of a lung or a section of liver also can be donated.

Q: How do I sign up?

By visiting any Secretary of State branch office or by calling Gift of Life at 1-800-482-4881. It takes about 30 seconds.

Q: Can I indicate specific organs or tissue to be donated?

Joining the Michigan Organ Donor Registry gives consent for all organs and tissues that can be used to help another person. However, people wishing to limit their gift may create a separate document to indicate specific organs and tissues they want to donate. They should keep this in their own possession and let their families know where it is kept.

Q: Will doctors work as hard to save my life if they know I’m a donor?

Yes. This is, perhaps, the number one myth about organ donation. Every effort to save your life will be made before donation is considered or even discussed. By law, the medical team treating you must be completely separate from the transplant team.

Q: How much does it cost to donate?

Nothing. It won’t cost your estate or your family anything if your organs and tissue are transplanted. All procedures related to the donation are covered by Gift of editLife Michigan.

Q: Will I still be able to have an open casket at the funeral?

Yes, neither organ nor tissue donation interferes with open casket memorials.

Q: Will my religion approve of donation?

Most major religions approve of organ, tissue and eye donation and consider it one of the highest acts of compassion and generosity.

Q: Can minors register to donate?

Yes, but until they turn 18, their parents have the ultimate say in whether they become an organ donor.

Give the gift of life, and register to become an organ donor today.