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Sponsor hopes new law will push more young adults to be organ donors

SHARE Sponsor hopes new law will push more young adults to be organ donors
A new law just passed by the Utah Legislature requires universities to provide students with organ donation information. Experts hope more young adults will become donors as a result.

A new law just passed by the Utah Legislature requires universities to provide students with organ donation information. Experts hope more young adults will become donors as a result.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Sarah Brown had plans to have her ears pierced last week by her co-workers at Claire's in City Creek Center, but it'll have to wait.

Brown, 22, who received a heart transplant at Primary Children's Hospital three years ago, is fighting heart rejection, and her doctors fear her immune system could be compromised if her ears were to become infected.

Beyond this unusual restriction, Brown said rejection doesn't significantly interfere with her life and she's able to live a normal young adult life. She's a student at LDS Business College and is enjoying the health benefits that come with a healthy heart.

The month of April is special for the Brown family for two reasons — it is the anniversary of Brown's transplant and it is also National Donate Life Month.

Around the country, state organizations of Donate Life will hold events throughout the month to raise awareness for organ, eye and tissue donation.

As part of the effort, supporters of organ donation will wear green and blue on April 15 to increase awareness.

This year in Utah, Donate Life will celebrate the signing of a new state law requiring Utah's public universities to provide students with information on organ donation twice a year.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB93 into law and plans to hold a ceremonial signing ceremony Thursday at the state Capitol.

The new law is an attempt to gather more donors between the ages of 16 and 24, bill sponsor Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, told the House Health and Human Services Committee earlier this year.

Froerer referred to studies that show a national trend of teenagers waiting longer to get a driver's license. Because of that, Froerer said it has impacted the number of registered donors.

Dixie Madsen, public education manager at Intermountain Donor Services, said there are no official studies confirming the driver's license trend in Utah, but according to driving instructors and driver's license offices, the state is following that trend.

According to the state's donor registry, YesUtah, registration rates among all 16- to 17-year-olds in the state are the lowest in the bill's targeted age range at 63 percent. Of all 18- to 21-year-olds, 68 percent are registered and 71 percent of 22- to 26-year-olds are registered.

All of these age categories are significantly less than the state average of 78 percent.

That's why the state is targeting university students for their awareness campaign, Froerer said.

Brad Mortensen, vice president of university advancement at Weber State University, said he doesn't know what kind of impact the messages to college students will have, but if only a small percentage of students sign up they may save someone's life someday.

Mortensen sees becoming an organ donor as an opportunity for students to become involved with their community, which is something the university stresses.

To comply with the law, each university has the freedom to inform their students however they see fit as long as a link to the donor registry is included, Mortensen said. He said WSU plans to send out an email twice a year.

The first set of messages will be sent during the fall semester, he said.

Weber State has events like Voter Registration Day, and it may try to coordinate an Organ Donor Registration Day in the future, Mortensen added.

Brown said that while formally registering to become an organ donor is important, people should also talk to their family about their final wishes.

"Just like discussions about life insurance, wills and funeral arrangements, it’s an uncomfortable topic and nobody really likes talking about it," Brown's mother Julie said in a blog post just a year after her daughter's heart transplant. "But just like those things, it’s important to make the organ donation decision ahead of time."

Gerri Osman is a strong advocate for such discussions, according to a statement this week from YesUtah. Osman lost her 16-year-old son in a car accident. Earlier this year, she shared her story and testified in favor of the new legislation.

Osman said her son asked her about organ donation after an assembly at school and expressed his desire to be a donor. If that conversation had never happened, Osman said she would not have considered donating her son's organs.

Knowing that her son was able to save the lives of three other people has brought her peace, she said.

As a transplant recipient, Brown said she may be biased, but she doesn't understand why anyone wouldn't register as a donor. "You're not going to be using (your organs) anyway," she said. "It sounds terrible, but you're dead."

Gail Ellison, solid organ transplant manager at Primary Children's Hospital, said "there are a number of myths" about organ donation. Ellison usually sends people to the Intermountain Donor Services website to clarify their concerns.

To register as an organ donor, visit https://register.yesutah.org/register.

"I really didn’t think about it much since I checked “yes” on my driver’s license so many years ago … until it mattered to me," Julie Brown wrote in a blog post. "Because someone said 'yes,' Sarah is living a life we never dreamed she'd have."

Email: elarson@deseretnews.com