Bringing the power of organ donation to New York’s teens

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At 16, someone may not be able to vote or grab a drink at a bar, but they can do something better — volunteer to save a life by registering to donate their organs.

“There is a gap,” said Tina Block, associate director of transplant services for Montefiore Hospital. “There is not a lot of transplants listed to donate to those in need.”

In 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation lowering the minimum age to become an organ donor from 18 to 16. And it’s thanks to programs like LiveOnNY where young people are educated on how they can be a part of doing something for others. 

Just recently, LiveOnNY — which facilitates organ donation — trained teachers from Marble Hill’s Marie Curie School for Medicine, Nursing and Health Professions, about the benefits of organ donation, and what happens when they sign up. It’s all information they’ll then take back to their students.

“It’s quite a rigorous training,” said James Pardes LiveOnNY’s vice president of marketing and communications. “We want them to be comfortable with the subject themselves.” 

Just 24 percent of New Yorkers older than 18 registered to be organ donors, Pardes said. And right now, there are more than 10,000 people in need of a transplant sitting on a waiting list. 

LiveOnNY procures organs and tissue for those in need, and are now reaching out to younger people since they’re now eligible to donate. 

Pardes believes lowering the age not only brings New York in line with the rest of the country, yet it’s the kind of decision that can’t be made lightly. 

“The last thing we want is for people to be making those kinds of decisions without (all the) information,” Pardes said. In fact, some of the misconceptions about organ donation like doctors not working as hard to save the lives of registered donors simply isn’t true. 

The program so far has trained 41 teachers, and their numbers are only growing. And on occasion, LiveOnNY brings its educational program directly to students. 

“It was more of a lunchtime activity and we let students come to us and register as donors,” Pardes said. “The response was very positive, and more importantly, we educated students on the program.”

As someone on the front lines of transplant work over the past five years at Montefiore, Block knows first hand what the disparity looks like in terms of the small number of donors to the long list of patients in need. 

“I think that this is an excellent opportunity to educate communities at large on what donation entails and how it benefits the population,” Block said. “A younger person learning about this can help.

“Education is power, and that’s how we get the message out there.” 

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