Recipients of donated organs, a parent of a young man who needed life-giving support and others urged the public Thursday to act on their intentions and give the gift of life and love to others.
"You decided to be an organ and tissue donor. But you didn't tell your family. Then you haven't really decided to be a donor. Right now, thousands of people are dying, waiting for transplants. You want to save lives. So you've decided to be an organ and tissue donor. Maybe you've even signed something. But there's still more you must do. You must tell your family now so they can carry out your decision later," those attending a luncheon meeting at Little America Hotel were told.The plea came in written materials and personal appeals issued at the gathering sponsored by the Utah Coalition of Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation. Speakers included former Utah Sen. Jake Garn, who in 1986 donated a kidney to his daughter, Susan Garn Horne; Linda Lewis, Sandy, the mother of Scott Wolfer, who died at age 22 on June 16 in California waiting for a heart-lung transplant; and Kally Heslop, Kaysville, a heart transplant recipient.
The audience included representatives of the print and electronic media, who were urged to run public service announcements and other materials that stress the urgency of organ, eye and tissue donation.
In conducting the meeting, Alex McDonald, coalition chairman who is also public education director for the Intermountain Organ Recovery System, cited the "dire need" for such donations.
More than 35,000 people in the United States alone are on a waiting list for a life-saving transplant, he said.
"Each day eight to 11 of those people are going to die waiting because there are not enough organs available for them," McDonald said, pointing out that local and national surveys show that 80 percent of the public supports such services but only half of them have ever done anything to make it a reality in the event of their own death.
In a moving presentation, Lewis recounted her son's 31/2-year wait after being placed on a donor waiting list, only to die in California waiting for medical help. Lewis explained her son's frustrations and disappointments and her own fears and anger in his not being able to be helped before it was too late. But she said she decided that she could either live with her anger and frustration or do something to help others.
"My goal in life is to help those people who are patiently waiting for donor organs," she said, noting that she wants to "help people become aware of how simple it is to fill out a donor card and put that magic word `donor' on their driver's license . . ."
Heslop explained how she became the recipient of a donor heart following the death of a young mother in a traffic accident and how the life-saving procedure has enabled her to enjoy life.
A few hours after the woman's death, "her heart was beating inside my chest, giving me the opportunity to live out my life and raise my four children. Not a day goes by that I don't stop and think about her. Not a day goes by that I don't think about her family . . .," Heslop said.
She introduced a number of organ recipients in the audience who recently participated with her in the 1994 U.S. Transplant Games in Atlanta, Ga.
Garn recounted how eight years ago he donated a kidney to his daughter, saying it was the most important and satisfying thing he has ever done.
"If something happens to me I can keep somebody else alive or I can give them sight. That's why I am here and that's why I keep talking about it," he said, explaining the joy he receives in seeing his daughter and her family.
Like hundreds of thousands of people, Garn said he procrastinated years ago in taking steps to authorize use of his own organs to benefit someone else. He said he has been very happy to become a living donor. He joked that his daughter has the "only transplanted space kidney on Earth," a reference to his trip a number of years ago in space.