Organ Donation Goes on the Schedule in High School Health Classes

Organ donation” by Magnus D.

August 22, 2017; Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH)

Students in Ohio will learn about more than the birds and the bees in health class this year. Thanks to new legislation, every school district in the state will be adding a half hour of instruction on organ, eye, and tissue donation to their health curriculum.

“The law is a direct result of efforts by an Athens teenager,” wrote reporter Jane Morice. That teen, Emmalyn Brown, was the recipient of a liver transplant who then supported legislation to add “positive organ donation education” to schools.

The bill’s passage was great news for Lifebanc, a locally-based nonprofit organization that educates and facilitates organ donation in 20 Ohio counties. The organization already works with 90 out of about 300 high schools in their service area, Lifebanc spokesman Nick VanDemark said, and it hopes to expand its reach with the new requirement.

The nonprofit smartly targets high schools just as teens are registering for their first driver’s licenses, but may be able to change its approach due to the new law.

“In the past, Lifebanc representatives were proactive in their approach to reach out to high schools about organ donation lessons,” wrote Morice. “Now, the organization will still be proactive, but officials hope schools and health educators will trust Lifebanc’s expertise and reach out to them too.”

According to Lifebanc, nearly 125,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for organ transplants and on average, every day 22 people die because an organ isn’t available in time. Unfortunately, organ donations have actually increased in some areas of the country due to the opioid epidemic, as NPQ reported last year: “Traffic accidents used to be the fourth-largest source of organ donation, behind deaths from strokes, blunt injuries, and cardiovascular disease, but drug overdoses, now the fastest growing category of organ donor, eclipsed them in 2014.”

Meanwhile, Lifebanc plans to work with other organ donation groups across the state to develop this new curriculum and hopes to reach more of the many Ohioans who support organ, eye, and tissue donation—about 90 percent—but aren’t yet registered to donate.

Beyond state-by-state legislation, there have been other advances in reducing the shortage thanks to social media and technology. Facebook ran a campaign to increase organ donors a few years ago that was highly successful, although the bump in signups was short-lived. And, in New England, a new initiative funded by the Department of Defense and lead by Segway inventor Dean Kamen is working to manufacture engineered tissues and tissue-related technologies to benefit veterans. The Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, a nonprofit organization in Manchester, New Hampshire, has a goal of creating a fully functional organ, a true game-changer for the thousands of people who remain on the nation’s transplant list.—Anna Berry