In 13 minutes another name will be added to the national waiting list for an organ or tissue transplant. Within the next 24 hours 77 persons in our country will receive a potentially life-saving transplant, but at least 17 others will die because they did not receive one. Sixty seconds, however, is all it takes to register as an organ, tissue, stem cell or blood donor via the Glenda Dawson Donate Life-Texas Registry web site.
April is Donate Life Month, the perfect time and reason to renew our commitment to saving lives via organ and tissue donation. More than 690,000 Texans (myself included!) have added their names to the Texas registry, named after the late Rep. Glenda Dawson (R-Pearland).
Rep. Dawson was a passionate advocate for organ donation because she had first-hand knowledge of its life-saving power. In 1987 a transplanted kidney lovingly given to her by her younger sister extended her life. Fifteen years later (2005) we collaborated to author and pass House Bill (HB) 120, establishing the official Texas organ and tissue donor registry, so that more Texans could donate life and more recipients could benefit from their generosity.
As a result of our legislation, it takes only 60 seconds to enroll via www.DonateLifeTexas.org.
Sadly, Rep. Dawson died 12 days after the official launch of our registry in 2006. In 2007 it was my honor to author and pass Senate Bill (SB) 1500, renaming the registry in her memory.
The need for donors is urgent and growing: The national waiting list for transplants includes more than 100,000 persons, more than half of whom are racial or ethnic minorities. Because successful transplants are enhanced if the donor and the recipient share a racial or ethnic background, having a diverse pool of donors is critical. Extensive and very interesting information is available via www.organdonor.gov.
Awareness is crucial. In 2009 I authored and passed SB 1803 to increase donor registrations by Texans and hope for potential recipients. My bill requires Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) employees to ask customers one question: “Would you like to register as an organ donor?” This is amazingly simple, but it works—and saves lives. Since January, when DPS began asking every customer the question, registrations at DPS offices increased from 32,929 last December to 62,317 last March—nearly double! What a difference one question makes!
My SB 1803 also requires the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) to include information about organ and tissue donation with auto registration renewal mailings. What’s more, it eliminates the unwieldy two-signature requirement for persons who register via the department’s website, As a result, the number of online registrants increased substantially.
Unfortunately, interest in donating life typically is limited to those who need or needed a transplant for themselves, family members or others; to living donors and loved ones of deceased donors who generously and courageously made donations possible; and to health care professionals, law enforcement personnel and advocates who understand the importance of its power and potential.
When Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself,” he could not have imagined how his words would apply so perfectly and profoundly to organ and tissue donors, whether living or deceased. My hope and prayer is that hundreds of Texans will celebrate April as Donate Life Month by registering as organ and tissue donors via www.DonateLifeTexas.org. No gift has a greater likelihood of turning someone’s generosity or tragedy into someone else’s joy. No gift is greater than the gift of life.
Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, is Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee and a member of the Finance and Health and Human Services Committees. She is a registered organ donor.