A new group of students is trying to save lives. And they might break a Guinness world record along the way.
Students for Organ Donation, which encourages students and community members to register to donate their organs, joined more than 50 other college campuses Wednesday in a nationwide attempt to break the Guinness World Record for registering the most organ donors in eight hours.
The current record is 145. It was set at a rugby match in Wales in 2003.
At the University alone, 51 students registered, pledging to donate everything from ligaments to livers.
Although Guinness World Records will not verify the results for another four weeks, group members were optimistic they would shatter the record, but said the real accomplishment was the promise to save lives.
“It didn’t matter to us that we broke it, just that we had people contribute to saving lives,” said LSA sophomore Shaun Patel, the group’s president. “Hopefully next year we can do something bigger and better.”
Group members joked about the candidness of their requests for body parts while registering donors in the basement of the Michigan Union.
“You catch (students) by surprise when you ask them if they want to be an organ donor,” Patel said.
Despite being caught off-guard, many students were receptive.
“If I were to die, I wouldn’t want my body to go to waste if it could help people,” said Meera Arghal, an LSA freshman who registered.
Gift of Life Michigan, an organization that serves as a liaison between donor hospitals and transplant centers, will enter the registered donors into a national computerized database that links donated organs to patients in need of transplants.
Christy Hammond, the group’s public relations chair, said although many people believe signing the back of their driver’s licenses is enough to ensure their organ donation, registering for the database is the most certain way to become a donor.
Hospitals don’t always check licenses and often the deceased do not have their licenses with them at the time of their deaths, she said.
According to Gift of Life Michigan, 2,960 people are waiting for organ transplants in Michigan.
This year, 154 people have received transplants in the state, while 12 have died waiting. Patients await everything from kidneys, hearts, lungs, livers, pancreases, and intestines. Needed tissues include skin, bone, heart valves, veins and tendons.
Activists often blame acute organ shortage on a lack of public knowledge about the problem.
“There is not a lot of conversation going on about it; it is not that hot of a topic,” Patel said. “If people knew more about it, they would be more interested in taking an active role.”
Krista Hopson, a spokeswoman for the University Health System, agreed that awareness is necessary to increase organ donations.
The University of Michigan Transplant Center – the only hospital in the state that performs every possible type of organ transplant – created an organ initiative program to shrink the gap between organ need and organ donation.
The program educates staff on how to effectively talk to patients and their family members about becoming a donor.
“We actually have the highest donation rate in the state of Michigan, and we far exceed the national average for organ donation,” Hopson said.
The donation drive is only one of the activities Students for Organ Donation is conducting as part of the first National Donate Life Week on campus. In some residence halls, the group will also screen the movie “John Q,” the story of a poor father who is forced to break the law to obtain a heart transplant for his dying son.
The University chapter of Students for Organ Donation formed in January after the national chapter sent out a request for students interested in the organization. Patel said the group will recruit new members beginning in the fall.