That was the resounding question at the second annual Give On…To Live On event on May 7, 2015. The “heart” refers to the red heart insignia provided by the Secretary of State when you register to be an organ and tissue donor.
The Give On…To Live On event, sponsored by Gift of Life Michigan, was held, according to organizer Karla Huitsing, “To not only raise awareness, but also to celebrate life.” In attendance were many who had received life-saving organ transplants. Chef Oliver Hale, affectionately known as “Chef O,” is a two-time kidney recipient. Chef O confirms his heart-felt gratitude for the opportunities has been given stating, “I have been blessed. I have been given a second chance at life.”
Also in attendance was Marci Prince who felt the call to become a “living donor” while watching an appeal by Kate Couric on television. “My family had always been involved in donating blood. After watching the program I knew it was my time to donate a kidney.” Soon afterward Marci would learn that her kidney was an excellent match for Rick Herlacher, a local man on the kidney waiting, whose need would also be the inspiration for the first Give On…To Live on gathering in 2014. Marci met Rick and the two bonded immediately. The transplant was a success and both Marci and Rick continue to speak on behalf of Gift of Life outreach efforts. Although Rick could not attend the event this year, Marci states, “Rick is living proof of the gift of life.” When asked about her personal giving, she responds, “ Isn’t that what the human race is designed to do?”
The fact is that the need for organ and tissue donors in Michigan is great. As of March 1, 2015 there were 3,497 patients awaiting transplant. Thousands of others need tissue to relieve their pain, heal their wounds, and help them see again. On average, 400 people are added to waiting lists every 20 minutes, while 14 people awaiting organs die each day.
The quest to raise awareness in our state is urgent. The Donor awareness movement in Michigan has increased greatly due to the actions of the Michigan Secretary of State. Instead of the passive approach of waiting to ask family members for organ donation after a death has occurred, the Secretary of State branches now active as people if they would like to register for organ donation when they are obtaining a license or state ID.
Dr. Luis Tomatis, Director of Medical Affairs for the Richard M. DeVos family and renowned cardiothoracic surgeon, led a panel discussion regarding organ donation in West Michigan. The panel consisted of Dr. Daniel Borreson, Surgical Director of Adult Renal Transplant at Mercy Health St. Mary’s and the Surgical Director of pediatric renal transplantation at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital; Dr. Muneer Abidi , oncologist with the Spectrum Health Medical Group Adult Blood and Marrow Transplant Program; and Dr. Martin Strueber, Surgical Director for the Spectrum Health Richard M. DeVos Heart and Lung Transplant Program. All stressed the need for increased awareness and the opportunity for Grand Rapids to become one of the leading transplant sites for adults, as well as children, in our state.
Dr. Abidi, who deals with blood cancers and stem cell treatments, reinforced the need for donor registry outreach, especially in minority communities.
Dr. Martin Strueber, who recently moved to Grand Rapids from Germany, saw the Medical Mile and the advancements in heart and lung transplants locally, and has ambition to grow the Center and make transplants more available in our area.
Dr. Borreson also sees opportunity for West Michigan to become a major transplant destination for two main reasons: First, Spectrum Health is a Regional Level 1 Trauma Center, increasing the availability of potential organs locally. Second, character of West Michigan is based largely on Christian values and altruism. When we see a need, we meet a need. One of the most important things stressed by Dr. Borreson is no matter if you have a heart sticker on your license, “Make your wishes known to your family.”
Many who attended the Give On…To Live On event were awaiting organs, just as Rick Herlacher was in 2014. Their hope and their prayer is that someone will be a match, someone will step up and offer the ultimate gift of life. Could that person be you?
To sign up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry simply go online to giftoflifemichigan.org or call 1-800-482-4881. You can also go online or visit any Michigan Secretary of State branch to receive a red heart to place on your license or state ID. You hold the keys to saving another’s life—register today!