Op Ed – High School Donation Education Needed: A Rite of Passage Could Mean Life for My Little Brother

Default Quilt Icon

Getting your driver’s license is a very cool rite of passage.  It’s one of those days you never forget.

I hope there’s something else you won’t forget  on your big day, and that is to make sure your license includes the pink donor dot, which shows you signed up to give life as an organ and tissue donor.  When you get your driver’s license at the DMV, you are asked, “Would you like to be an organ and tissue donor?”  It’s a question every single person getting or renewing their license must answer. I hope you say “YES!”

My hope is based on my little brother, Connor.   He’s 13 years old and suffers from a life-threatening liver disease, Congenital Hepatic Fibrosis. It’s a big name but what it means is that he may need an organ transplant because he has scar tissue on his liver, blocking blood flow and increasing the risk of internal bleeding.  He’s been in and out of the hospital a lot.
It’s scary for me, because his life literally depends on someone like you, saying “Yes” to donation.  Right now, only about one in three people in California have said “Yes” when they get their drivers licenses at the DMV.

When I get my license in April, of course, I’ll say “YES!” to donation.  But, I think some kids may need some education on just what it means to give life as a donor after you die.  That’s why I hope that California lawmakers will pass legislation before them this year, for all 9th and 10th grade public high school health science students to get at least 15 minutes of donation education.  There’s even a video and curriculum already available through Donate Life California – a video that my older brother, Austin, is in.  It’d be awesome if that could be shown to every kid going to get their license, so when they have to answer the donation question at the DMV, they’d be able to make an educated decision.

I don’t understand why anyone would say anything but “YES!,” but, I guess some movies and TV dramas scare people away.  That’s just fiction.  But because of those stories, some of my friends have told me they worry their medical care might be affected by their decision to donate.  That’s just not true.  Organ, eye and tissue donation becomes an option only after all lifesaving efforts have been made.  Consent for your donation is then confirmed and your family is asked to participate in the process by providing your medical history.

Also, donation costs the donor’s family nothing.  And, all major religions support or permit donation.

Right now, 110,000 people in the United States wait for a life-saving organ transplant, just like my little brother.  There’s a huge shortage of organ donors right now.  In fact, of those now waiting, one out of three will die due to a lack of life-saving donors.

Because there’s such a need for donors, there’s a very careful system set up to make sure organs from a donor are distributed fairly based on medical factors only.

Since my little brother was told he had his disease, he’s been advised he can’t play like other kids.  This is the funny thing about him… every time he has the chance to prove he’s strong and capable, he takes it.  It’s his way of dealing with It —  to do the impossible — the things that other people say he can’t do.  So far, he has played football as an honorary team member, and scored a touchdown! And just this past summer, he rode his back across the United States with an eight-member relay team… the youngest person to ever do that!  He rode nearly 200 miles a week to train and got to meet Lance Armstrong!

He inspires me.
In fact, I think if my seventh grade brother can do all that – then how hard is it for the rest of us to support his amazing life by checking “YES!” when we’re asked if we want to be an organ and tissue donor?  I hope you will.

Connor and I are counting on it.
Savannah Ellison is a Freshman at Folsom High School where she is Class President, cheerleader and JV Soccer Player.  She volunteers as a Donate Life Ambassador, helping to educate the public about the need for life-saving donations. Savannah is looking forward to getting her license this year.