By Talia Selitsky
For the Daily
Last week kicked off the second annual Gift of Life Competition, a contest that has universities from around the state competing to register the most people to agree to put themselve on the organ donor-list.
Sponsored by Gift of Life Michigan, a nonprofit organ recovery organization, the competition has previously involved only Michigan State University and the University. But this year, it has expanded to include 11 other universities and colleges in Michigan, including Albion College, Central Michigan University and Ferris State College. The competition runs through Feb. 17.
Judged by percentage of the school population, the competition has Albion leading with 11 percent of the school population registered for organ donation. Ferris State has registered the most people, with 419 in total. The University has 97 students registered out of a total student population of 39,000.
“While it’s a competition and that’s wonderful, we are just trying to get more people to sign up,” said Christine McKillip, LSA junior and co-founder of the University of Michigan Gift of Life chapter.
According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, a group that helps organize the system of organ donation in America, 86,000 people in the country are waiting for an organ transplant. Moreover, the United Network for Organ Sharing, an organ procurement and transplant network, estimates that every hour and a half, a person dies waiting for an organ. In the state of Michigan, about 2,834 people are waiting for organs, and about 150 people have died this year waiting for an organ, according to Gift of Life Michigan’s website.
Tammie Havermahl, public education coordinator for the Gift of Life Michigan, said that for the organ donation system to be successful, millions of people need to be signed up as willing donors. One reason for this is that only 4 to 6 percent of all deaths produce organs preserved well enough to be donated. The deaths most likely to produce usable organs are those resulting from brain hemorrhaging, such as strokes and motor vehicle accidents. Organs must also be matched with recipients according to blood type, reducing the chances that each person on the waiting list will find a suitable organ.
“Only 8 percent of Michigan is signed up. We would like 5 million,” Havermahl said. One donor can potentially help 50 people, because both organs and tissues can often be used to save lives she added.
The University has the largest organ transplant center in the state, conducting about 300 organ transplants a year. In the 1960s, it was the first in the state to transplant a kidney, which is still functioning to this day.
Robert Garypie, the special events coordinator at the University of Michigan Transplant Center, helped organize the competition.
“Most people agree for donation, but in hospitals most people don’t. The key to that is public awareness,” Garypie said. He said the discrepancy is caused by people not making their wishes known to their loved ones, due to the sensitivity of the subject.
“There is no good way to talk about organ donation. We find that any event that is fun or in the public eye sparks the conversation,” he added.
To register for organ donation, go to www.giftoflifemichigan.org.