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Organ Bank Highlights RMV’s Role In Donor Registration

Representatives from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles and the regional organ bank were in North Adams Tuesday to celebrate the RMV’s role in signing up donors.According to the New England Organ Bank, 99 percent of Massachusetts residents who register to be organ and tissue donors do so through the state RMV. Through the donations, 719 lives were saved in New England last year including Glen Wiley’s.

“On November 14, 2015 I received a liver that saved my life and changed my life,” Wiley said. “And if it wasn’t for generosity of someone checking that box to say ‘Yes, I will be an organ donor’ I probably wouldn’t be standing here talking with you now.”

Matt Boger is with the New England Organ Bank, one of 58 federally-designated organ procurement organizations.

“We work very closely with the federal government, the Health Resources Services Agency,” Boger explained. “They put out a poll every five years and that indicates that 90 percent of the American public supports organ donation and if asked would say ‘yes.’ The only times that you’re really asked are if I’m in front of you talking about organ and tissue donation or our wonderful volunteers and/or when you go in every five years to the RMV to get your license.”

Boger says five years ago, 40 percent of the people who came through a Massachusetts RMV branch registered for organ donation. In July, 58 percent said yes to donating, the highest figure to date. RMV Registrar Erin Deveney says RMV staff receive training from the New England Organ Bank while videos about organ donation are featured in the larger RMV offices.

“We’re very proud that from all of offices from North Adams to Nantucket as well as our online transaction at massrmv.com we very prominently ask this very critical question which is, ‘Would you like to become an organ and tissue donor?’” said Deveney.

There are 120 million registered organ and tissue donors in the U.S., including 6.3 million in New England. Still, more than 121,000 people are on the U.S. transplant list, ranked by how sick they are. Boger says for organ donation to proceed, a person must die in a controlled setting like a hospital.

“The reason for that is we can put an individual on a respirator to have blood and oxygen running through the organs to maintain those organs to see if there is an opportunity to help transplant,” Boger said. “You’re more likely to need to have a transplant than to become an organ donor. It’s very rare. Only one percent of all deaths happen in a manner where you can become an organ donor.”

Boger says every hospital is paired with an organ procurement organization to initiate a potential donation within one hour of a death. Take Denise Swistak, who was 10 minutes from UMass Memorial Medical Center for a checkup on her debilitating liver disease when her phone rang.

“A man from Oklahoma saved my life,” Swistak said. “I’ll never know him. I thanked his family for their generosity and their unselfish gift that they decided to give. They gave me a new life.”

Swistak now volunteers with New England Organ Bank and as an ambassador at the North Adams RMV.

“I too am an organ donor,” Swistak said. “I hope someday I’ll be able to give someone the gift that I was given.”

Boger says people can sign up to be an organ and tissue donor at every motor vehicle department or registry in the country and at registerme.org.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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