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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"Donations that save lives"
ALBANY, Aug. 4 -- In 2012, New York State approved a new law in tribute to a 12-year-old heart transplant survivor, Lauren Shields of Rockland County, in an effort to encourage more New Yorkers to become organ and tissue donors. At that time, New York ranked 47th nationally in state organ donation.
Lauren received her heart transplant in 2009, and she and her family became instrumental and well-known donor advocates. Her story was inspirational.
"I don't know who my donor was but I hope to find out some day. They are the angel that saved my life," Lauren said at the time the legislation named in her honor was first introduced in the State Legislature in 2011.
Her mother, Jeanne, added, "As a parent it was so difficult to watch my daughter's health go from perfect to failing so quickly. While she lay on life support, I looked out the window many nights wondering if it would be the night that she would be saved. Words cannot express how grateful we are to the donor's family."
Very simply, “Lauren’s Law,” which remains in effect, prohibits a driver's license application from being processed unless the organ donation section is filled out. Applicants have to check a box stating “yes” or “skip this question.” Prior to the adoption of the new law, the application included an organ donation section, but filling it out was optional.
As time goes on, Lauren’s Law will undoubtedly have a greater and greater impact and remain a positive force in New York’s overall strategy to encourage more organ and tissue donations, but according to a recently released study, “Far fewer New Yorkers have signed up as organ donors than Americans as a whole.” In fact, the most recent statistics show that 22% of New Yorkers are in our donor registry compared to an average of 48% for states nationally. And we’re far, far behind the state of Montana, for example, where 84% of adults have registered to donate.
The study also revealed that in 2013 more than 500 New Yorkers died awaiting a transplant. Nationally, there are more than 120,000 men, women and children waiting for organ transplants. Every 11 minutes, a new name is added to the national waiting list and, each day, 18 people die because of the lack of donated organs.
Based on statistics from the 2013 Donate Life America state-by-state comparison, New York State has the third-lowest rate of donor registry signees. And keep in mind New York has the third most number of people – 10,150 – awaiting organs, behind only California and Texas.
Clearly, more needs to be done. This year’s state budget included funding to transfer the administration of the state’s donor registry to a not-for-profit organization. Eight of the top ten states in donor registration (each of which, by the way, has a 60%-plus rate of registration) have turned over the operation and promotion of their registries to not-for-profit organizations. Numerous other large states, including California, Texas, Illinois, and Florida, have also taken the step of enlisting a not-for-profit organization to operate their registries. The belief is that by contracting with a statewide not-for-profit organization, with a mission dedicated to saving and improving the quality of lives through organ, eye and tissue donations, New York State can increase enrollment by streamlining the registration process and creating new avenues for promotion.
It begins, in other words, with greater public awareness and education. Organ and tissue donation is one of the most life-saving actions that any individual can take. To find out more and to sign up, visit my Senate website, www.omara.nysenate.gov, and click on the “Donate Life” icon in the left-hand column of the home page.
You can also find out more from Donate Life America at www.donatelife.net, which states, “Transplantation is one of the most remarkable success stories in the history of medicine. But despite continuing advances in medicine and technology, the need for organs and tissue is vastly greater than the number available for transplantation.”
One more timely reminder on donations that save lives. The middle of summer is also an urgent time to donate blood. According to the American Red Cross, which this year is running a “100 Days of Summer. 100 Days of Hope” public awareness campaign, blood donations decrease significantly in the summer and shortages can reach critical and emergency levels.
As a result, numerous blood drives are taking place throughout the month of August across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions. You can also go to my Senate website to find a link to the American Red Cross where you’ll find a comprehensive listing of upcoming regional blood drives. Or contact any of our regional Red Cross chapters directly, including the Greater Steuben/Sullivan Trail Chapter (877-754-3711), Tompkins County Chapter (607-273-1900) and Yates County Chapter (315-536-6841).
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp
Bottom row: Tom Gifford, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field.
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen, 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Gary Whyman, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano--
Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869