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My Story

It was the first day of eighth grade. The school was buzzing with excitement. Students were

reminiscing about their summer, checking out their lockers, and talking to their teachers. The

fresh smell of the first day of school floated around the student lounge. In all of my classes, we

just played some icebreakers and learned about the class. I was hoping for something more

interesting in all of my classes. Finally, I headed towards English, and I could hear people yelling

and talking loudly from the hallway. This’ll be a fun class for sure, I thought to myself. As soon

as I sat in my seat, the bell rang. The class immediately went quiet. We all liked to talk, but no

one wanted to make the teacher angry on the first day. Then, our English teacher walked in.

She introduced herself and then we all introduced ourselves to the rest of the students. One

thing I noticed immediately is how she was always smiling. I could tell she always made the

class laugh with her jokes and she made us enjoy her class, which was the most important

thing. However, sometimes while she was talking or moving around she would quickly grimace

with pain. It flashed on and off her face so quickly, I doubt anyone noticed it. I spaced out,

thinking about why she would be in pain, when I heard the words “kidney transplant”. I

snapped out of my reverie just in time to hear her say,

“Oh, and by the way, I’m currently waiting for a kidney transplant, so if I seem tired

somedays just know it’s because of that.”

As soon as she said that, I felt really sorry for her. I knew she probably had to go through a lot.

She was working a full-time job while on dialysis, which I later learned can be very exhausting.

The rest of the day I had organ transplantation on the mind. How do hospitals decide who gets

an organ donation, how many people need an organ transplant? I had all these questions

floating around in my head. As soon as I got home, I started researching about organ donation,

and I found out it was a bigger problem than I originally believed. I had always been interested

in the human body since I was little, so this incident inspired me to start looking into organ

donation! Now that I look back on it, this event is probably what changed my life.

I learned that over 120,000 people were waiting to receive an organ, and most of them were

waiting for kidneys like my teacher. I was seriously shocked. People were waiting 5-10 years on

dialysis, waiting for an organ! What made it even crazier is that I’d never heard of this before. If

22 people were dying each day because of this, why wasn’t it more known?

After a couple of months of research, I had a casual discussion with my friends and asked them

what they knew about organ donation. The results varied. They all knew the basics, like that it

was where your organs are transplanted into another person’s body, but there was a lot of false

information. Some assumed that doctors wouldn’t try to save you if they knew you were an

organ donor, and others believed that signing up meant that the next day doctors would

operate on you and take all your organs without you knowing. Thankfully, I corrected them on a

lot of those myths. But one thing they all had in common was that they never knew 120,000

people were waiting for an organ. When I told them that, they were stunned. That little

experiment in school really taught me something. While most adults know how organ donation

works, teens and children do not. There are many organizations trying to spread awareness

about organ donation, not many focus on children and teens. I believe that we should focus

more effort on them, since they will be the ones who can solve this problem in the future.

When that realization hit me, I felt like I should do something about it.

By the end of school year, I started off with interviewing my teacher about her experiences. She

gave me the inspiration to start this project. Her story struck a chord with me, and since then I

have taken it upon myself to get the word out about organ donation. For the whole summer,

along with my summer classes, summer camp and Pokémon Go, I continued researching more

about the organ donation. From there, I interviewed Kim Zasa, a volunteer coordinator at Gift of Life Michigan, who got me in touch with donors and recipients and has helped me throughout

my project.

Next, I contacted the CEO and CIO of the Michigan Donor Family Council, who helped me understand the standpoints of a recipient and a donor family member. They also taught me

about the Michigan Donor Family Council and what it does for Michigan donor families. Third, I

interviewed a marketing and partnerships specialist at an Organ Donation start-up. She put me

In contact with a transplant surgeon, and taught me about ORGANIZE, which aims to create a

centralized organ donation registry online, to make it easy for people to become organ donors.

Fourth, I interviewed the head of the Recanati/Miller Transplant institute at Mount Sinai. He is

also a transplant surgeon and the author of nine book chapters and more than 75 publications.

I also interviewed Dr. Rahul Jindal, a transplant surgeon from Maryland, who has published many books, but a notable one is The Struggle for Life: A Psychological Perspective of Kidney Disease

and Transplantation. Both of them gave me an inside experience on organ transplantation

and what goes on inside the operating room. Finally, I interviewed a pre and post liver

transplant coordinator at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, who gave me insights regarding

a patient before and after their transplant. I learned when I interviewed liver recipients is that

prior to receiving an organ, they miss work often because they don’t feel good, and a lot of

their time is spent in the hospital. However, when they finally did get their liver, most of them said

that they felt like a whole new person! They felt lively, cheerful, and ready to be a productive member of society. I was very amazed by the number of people it takes to coordinate organ

transplantation. Other than surgeons, you have people working for the OPO’s (Organ

Procurement Organizations) nurses, assistants, and volunteers. It truly takes a lot of work!

Recently, I’ve visited Gift of Life Michigan and signed up to become a volunteer. This way, I can discover more about the organ transplant community while making new contacts and learning effective ways to spread awareness and educate people about organ donation. I’ve spent a lot of time working on increasing my education about organ donation, through interviews

and research, and that’s why I finally feel able to get started with this project.

Ultimately, organ donation is an area with lot of myths, and misconceptions surrounding it.

However, there is a solution to fighting the false information that has been spread. If we can

educate everyone about organ donation with facts, not fiction, then people will want to sign up

and take action. A survey was conducted and showed that 90% of Americans were in favor of

organ donation, but only 50% actually signed up. Through my journey, I have educated my own

parents and since then they have signed up to become organ donors. I am really hopeful that I

can convince my peers as well so we and the future young generation can contribute to raising the quality of life in our country and make a big difference in the lives of people waiting for a transplant.

Feel free to leave comments, I'd love some feedback, and I'll see you next month!

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