University beats Ohio State in organ donor battle

By Jennifer Calfas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 26, 2012

While some students were mourning the football team’s loss this Saturday, others were celebrating the University’s win against Ohio State in the annual organ donor challenge.

The University came in victorious with 112,780 signed donors, compared to Ohio State’s 68,397, according to a University press release. The Wolverine-Buckeye Challenge for Life started Sept. 1 and ended at midnight on Thanksgiving Day.

However, the University came up short in the 31st annual two-week Blood Battle contest, with Ohio State’s 2,402 pints topping the University’s 2,232, the first time the University has lost in five years.

Wolverines For Life — an organization devoted to encouraging students, faculty and others to donate organs, tissues, eyes, blood and bone marrow — created the two challenges. The group works with the University Health System, Michigan Athletics and other groups such as Alpha Phi Omega, American Red Cross, Gift of Life Michigan, the Michigan Eye-Bank and the Be the Match Foundation.

In the past year, Michigan jumped in state rankings of the highest number of signed organ donors from 42 to 39, according to Holly Eliot, the project manager at the University’s Transplant Center.

She said the electronic scoreboard on the Wolverines For Life website, established to motivate potential donors, tracked the number of donors between the two schools.

“We just want to do anything that gets people to notice,” Eliot said. “It’s a decision you should make for the right reason, but if people do it to win a competition, that’s fine. It’s a right decision anyway.”

Eliot added that the competition increases the chances that patients on an organ waiting list will receive a needed organ.

“The list is five years long already, and we’re trying to shorten that time from getting on the list to actually getting an organ. We don’t want our patients dying because there aren’t organs out there,” she said.

Jeffrey Punch, the division chief of the transplantation section of general surgery at the University of Michigan Health System, said he believes the athletic rivalry helps effectively publicize the donation opportunity.

“We think it’s something we’d like to be a model for how everyone else promotes donation as well,” Punch said. “It’s something everyone can do. There’s no cost and no real downside. When people see the good it can do, they really understand very clearly why it’s something people should do.”

Punch said the state of Michigan should aspire to register 85 percent of its population.

“Utah has about 85 percent, so it’s an achievable goal,” Punch said. “If the entire country did that, it would make a huge difference.”

He added the biggest challenge to attract more organ donors is convincing them that it is a safe process.

“If there are people that don’t believe in it, we’d like to convince them that they shouldn’t be afraid of it,” Punch said. “People think it’s a threat to them, but donation only happens when people die. The threat is to the people that need the transplants that can’t get them.”

Kinesiology sophomore Bryanna Gardner said she donated blood for the second time at the University and the fourth time in her life because her mother has lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease.

“I’ve already donated blood and bone marrow for her, so I already know the value donating blood can do for somebody,” Gardner said.

She added that some of her friends felt hesitant about giving blood, but those that she convinced to donate were happy they did.

“It’s that feeling that you did something,” Gardner said. “You gave a little piece of yourself that could help so many people; to just give a little matters.”