By LAUREN GIBBONS
Capital News Service
LANSING — The number of new heart-shaped organ donor emblems on Michigan drivers’ licenses grew by more than 25 percent in 2011, but state officials and organizers haven’t stopped recruiting.
In 2011, more than 400,000 people joined the registry of drivers willing to donate their organs and tissue in the case of a fatal accident. Last year, 900 people received organ transplants from Michigan donors, and thousands of people likely benefited from tissue donations such as skin, said Tim Makinen, communications manager for the organ and tissue recovery organization Gift of Life Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Projections indicate the number of new registered donors could rise to half a million by the end of this year.
Statewide, that’s about 37 percent of the population — a number still behind the nationwide average of about 43 percent, Makinen said.
When dispersed geographically, the percentage of adults registered for potential organ donations in Michigan is all across the board.
Northern Lower Peninsula communities such as Charlevoix and Emmet counties are much higher than average, with 76 and 97 percent registered respectively, while others throughout the state range anywhere from 20 to 60 percent. No Michigan county has less than 21 percent of its population registered.
It’s hard to tell why people in certain areas might be more likely to sign up than others, Makinen said, but the overall increase is reassuring.
“It varies quite widely across the state in terms of who’s signing up and who has yet to sign up,” Makinen said. “The important thing is to continue striving for growth as we continue with these big increases that we’re getting.”
Any resident can sign up to be a donor regardless of medical conditions or age. If some organs are deemed non-transplantable, others still have the potential for use, and even organs from donors with medical conditions such as HIV or hepatitis can be used on potential recipients if the recipient has the same medical condition.
Fred Woodhams, communications manager for the Secretary of State, said the state’s recent increases might in part be attributed to its new departmental policies — if drivers visit a Secretary of State office for other reasons and aren’t registered, employees will ask if they’re interested in signing up.
“We think that’s responsible for a significant increase in our organ donor registry,”
Secretary of State branches also work with local organ and blood banks to provide
programs and information for those interested in learning more about the registry
and what it does, Woodhams said.
“We’re certainly working hard to save lives in Michigan with this registry,” Woodhams said. “Anyone at any age can be a donor.”
The growth in new donors recently caught the attention of the nationwide group Donate Life America, which presented Michigan with an award for improvements in its donor registration rate. Michigan was one of four states to receive the recognition.
Lansing resident and organ recipient Kay Walters said she hopes the uptick in new registered donors continues so more people like herself can have a second chance at life.
Walters said 15 years ago, she was bedridden and unable to take care of her own personal needs. After a successful heart transplant from an 18-year-old Michigan donor, Walters is healthy and able to enjoy a high quality of life.
“I live a full, healthy and active life because of receiving this precious gift,” Walters said.
The decision to donate in case of a fatal accident is a highly personal decision for people, Walters said, so she said the best way to get more donors on board is to explain the process, alleviate common misconceptions and show how donor recipients have benefited from the process.
“I feel the key is educating people by answering their questions and dispelling any myths,” she said. “It’s a wonderful gift. People who have had successful transplants are living very happy, healthy and productive lives and are contributing to their community.”
By LAUREN GIBBONS