“Be the Gift” campaign encouraging people to register to become organ and tissue donors

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A new, national campaign is calling on everyone across the country to “be the gift” to help save a person’s life.

Tennessee Donor Services launched a campaign in August called “Be the Gift” to encourage people to register to become organ and tissue donors after death.

Right now, 115,000 Americans are waiting for a life-changing organ including 2,900 people in Tennessee. Twenty people on the transplant list die every day still waiting for a transplant. 

Joe Carder, 65, was one of those people waiting for a life-saving organ four years ago. He developed cirrhosis in 2001. It was a side effect of medication he was taking for a heart arythmia. He lived with cirrhosis for 13 years before going into liver failure.

“I never really thought I’d have to have a transplant. They had told me I could live up to 30 years,” Carder recalled. “I was shocked when the doctor first told me because I didn’t expect that and I remember telling him I thought I’d live to see my grandchildren grow up.”

Carder was put on the transplant list and four months later he received a liver transplant. Carder said, “It was the longest and hardest four months of my life. Your life is basically in limbo. There are no guarantees that they’ll find an organ that is a match to you in time to save your life.”

“If everyone registers then we can end the list because that ups the pool of people who have the potential to be donors,” said Sharon Pakis, manager of public education and public relations with Tennessee Donor Services. “It doesn’t matter how old, what age, what your health background is; everybody can be the gift.”

But Pakis said only 38 percent of Tennesseans are registered organ and tissue donors. “What we’ve found is if you ask somebody to do something they’re more likely to do it,” Pakis said. “Be the gift is a fun, easy way to encourage others to be organ and tissue donors and be the gift and everyone can be the gift.” 

Organ donors can save up to eight people while tissue donors can help improve the lives of 50 people or more. Pakis said, “Tissue donation is considered corneas, ligaments, bones, {and} skin. So people can also be tissue donors and tissue donation really can be life saving and life alternating as well.”

Adam Lively was the gift for at least five people after he died in a tragic car accident 20 years ago. Dave Lively said his son was a 22-year-old senior at East Tennessee State University when he and six of his friends got into an accident in January 1998 on their way back to the university. “They were on I-26 and an animal ran out in front of the car and it was a slick, nasty January morning. The young man that was driving lost control and it rolled and Adam suffered a close skull fracture.” Adam Lively died a few days later.

“It was kind of ironic that six weeks before Adam’s accident he told his mother that if anything ever happened to him he wanted to be an organ donor.” Lively believes his son made the decision after hearing someone give a talk at ETSU about organ and tissue donation.

Adam’s heart saved a man from Mississippi who had been on the transplant list for nine months. “I think when you talk about be the gift the gift that Adam gave Ken was over 7,000 sunrises and sunsets. The chance to see his daughters grow up… to see his granddaughters.”

The Tennessee Department of Safety wants to increase the number of registered donors to 50 percent by 2020.

If you would like to register to become a donor visit the Tennessee Donor Services website.

People who register are encouraged to take a picture with a red bow and post it to social media with the hashtag “Be The Gift” to encourage others to register. You can also find a virtual bow at BeTheGiftToday.com

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