One of the most rewarding aspects of my role as a state representative has been connecting people, especially young people, with their government and showing them that they can help make change happen. I had the chance to do just that with a bill I worked on during the 2018 short legislative session.
Last fall, I was approached by a student from Willamette High School named Jarod Doerner, who had an idea for a piece of legislation. For his Eagle Scout service project, he wanted to pass a bill promoting organ donation in Oregon. In 2014, at the age of 13, Jarod was the recipient of a heart transplant.
His life was saved because of the generosity of someone he had never met. This experience inspired him to take action to encourage more Oregonians to become organ donors. Jarod and I, with the help of Donate Life Northwest and Oregon Health & Science University, developed a bill that honors organ donors in Oregon and their families.
Our bill establishes the second week of April each year as “Organ, Eye, and Tissue Donor Appreciation Week” in Oregon. In the United States, April is already National Donate Life Month and this year, April 13 was Blue Green Day, where the public was encouraged to wear blue and green to publicize the need for organ donors.
The bill also creates the “Gifts of Life” award, which will be presented annually by the Governor to families of organ donors from the previous year. The legislation, House Bill 4019, passed unanimously through both chambers of the Oregon Legislature and has been signed into law by the governor.
The need for organ and tissue donors is significant. More than 117,000 people in the United States are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant — on average, another person is added to the transplant list every 10 minutes. In Oregon, more than 800 people are on the organ transplant list, with hundreds more awaiting a tissue or cornea transplant. Because of the number of people on the transplant list, 22 Americans die each day while waiting for a transplant.
This issue is a personal one for my family and me, because my cousin died of cystic fibrosis while waiting for a lung transplant. He was number one on the transplant list in Iowa when he died, so just one additional donor could have made the difference for him.
Although there is a great need for organ and tissue donors in this country, only 56 percent of Americans have signed up to be donors. Because fewer than one percent of all deaths occur in a medical environment conducive to donating organs, this means that organ donation is actually fairly rare.
But a single organ, eye or tissue donor can save or heal more than 75 individuals. One donor can donate up to eight of their organs: the heart, liver, small intestines, pancreas, both kidneys, and both lungs. It is much more likely, however, that a donor will be able to donate their corneas or their tissue (bone, skin, heart valves, and connective tissue). Organ, eye and tissue recovery for donation can only happen after all life-saving efforts have been exhausted and death has been legally declared.
Here in Oregon, you can register to be an organ donor when you get your driver’s license, permit, or state ID. Donors who register at the DMV will have a “D” printed on their license and their names will be added to a secure and confidential statewide donor registry. Oregonians can also register through Donate Life Northwest via a paper form or their website, register.donatelifenw.org. You can register to be a donor starting as young as 13 years old.
Jarod and I both hope that the bill we passed will bring awareness to the importance of organ donation and will inspire more Oregonians to become donors. And I hope that Jarod’s story of working with his state representative to pass a bill inspires more young people to see the state Legislature as a place where they can work for change in their community.
Julie Fahey is a Democrat serving in the Oregon House of Representative in the 14th district, which covers parts of Lane County, including Junction City and western Eugene.