Chattanooga, Tenn. – Erlanger Health System officials, Tennessee Donor Services and Donate Life representatives and attendees whose lives were changed by organ donation raised the “Donate Life Flag” in front of Erlanger campus yesterday honoring 36 Erlanger patients who saved 145 lives in 2013. The annual flag raising event recognizes April as National Donate Life Month.
The Donate Life Flags across America program honors the hundreds of thousands of donors, recipients, and their loved ones symbolizing the uncountable lives touched by organ, eye and tissue donation. Organizers also hope the recognition will motivate other people to consider the benefits of organ donation and join the Donate Life Tennessee Donor Registry.
“We are pleased to join together with our hospital partners to honor those who provided the unselfish gift of life to others through donation,” said Bridgette Fredenberg, Community Services Director for Tennessee Donor Services.
“One person can save or enhance the lives of over 50 individuals. Through education on organ and tissue donation, we have the opportunity to save more lives through transplantation.”
When Lynn Johnson was tested to donate a kidney to his mother for polycystic kidney disease, tests revealed he had the same disease. For approximately 20 years he lived with the disease until his kidney function began to decline. In January 2013, Lynn received a kidney transplant at Erlanger that has given him a new lease on life.
“As of today, all I know is the donor was a male, 28 years old and worked as a welder,” said Johnson. “However, I know in my heart he was a wonderful person who made an important decision with his family when he registered as a donor. He gave me a second chance at life.”
The local organ recipient looks to the future with a more positive outlook and has returned to many of the activities he enjoyed before his health began to decline.
In 2013, 421 Tennesseans gave the gift of life, saving 796 lives. Tragically, the need far exceeds the number of those who give. While most Americans are in favor of donation, many believe they are too old or unhealthy to donate, and others simply don’t take the steps required to sign up. Almost everyone can be a donor. There is no age limit to organ donation and very few diseases preclude donation. Currently in the United States, more than 120,000 people are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, over 2,600 of those live in Tennessee. Every 18 minutes a patient on the waiting list will die, and every 10 minutes a new name will be added.
In 2001, 25-year-old Kevin Yates passed away from traumatic injuries he received from an incident involving a drunk driver. A few years prior to the accident, he spoke to his mother, Tiki Finlayson, about his choice to become an organ donor. At the time of Kevin’s death, his family members knew what had to be done. Kevin’s organ donation saved four other lives through liver, kidneys, pancreas and heart transplants.
At yesterday’s ceremony, Finlayson said “I want to encourage people to make that choice to be an organ donor.” Kevin’s story is a true testament that it is not only important to make that choice, but to also express that decision with family members so they will know what your wishes are.
“Organ donation is an integral part of Erlanger’s mission to patients, family members and the community,” said Kevin M. Spiegel, FACHE, president and CEO of Erlanger Health System. “As the region’s only Level One trauma center, Erlanger is also one of the most active hospital systems for organ harvest. We have such an unbelievable team of specialists from nurses and physicians at our Kidney Transplant Center, who take transplantation to the next level, to partnerships with other agencies such as Donate Life and Tennessee Donor Services. The agencies provide Erlanger and the community with resources for education, awareness and the opportunity to save more lives. Today’s event is Erlanger’s way of encouraging the community to embrace life and make the choice to become an organ donor to give the gift of life.”
As of March 2014, over 1,890,000 Tennesseans have signed up on the Donate Life Tennessee Organ & Tissue Donor Registry either online or through the Department of Safety. On average nearly 3,500 people are added each week. While the rate falls far short of the nationwide goal to register 50% of each state’s licensed drivers, Tennessee’s registry is growing quickly. Tennesseans can register to be organ donors by simply checking YES when applying for or renewing their driver’s license. A small red heart is placed on the driver license. Residents can also sign up online by visiting www.donatelifetn.org.