(Buffalo, N.Y.) – New York State currently has one of the lowest rates for organ donation registration in the U.S., but officials in Erie County are working to improve that.
There are more than 121,000 people in the country waiting for an organ transplant and 8.2 percent of them reside in the state, according to Unyts, a group that promotes organ donation in eight counties in western New York.
“This really is a public health crisis,” said Sarah Diina, director of marketing and development at Unyts. “This need is growing every single day. Right now 22 people, on average, are dying every day because an organ they need did not become available on time.”
Diina appeared on the Buffalo Review April 11 to discuss organ donation, as April is National Donate Life Month, which has been recognized for 13 years.
Diina said there are more than more than 800 people in western New York, who are on the waiting list for an organ. “We need people to take that next step, to enroll and to be a donor,” she said.
There are a number of reasons why people are hesitant to become an organ donor, according to Diina.
“There are still a lot of myths and misconceptions out there about becoming a donor. There are people who think medical staff won’t work as hard to save their life if they know they are registered,” Diina said. “There are people who think their religion does not support it, which is completely not true. Every religion is supportive of organ donation.”
Additionally, she said the registry process in New York is somewhat tedious. “It is not an easy registry to actually get enrolled on,” Diina said.
“Unfortunately New York State does not acknowledge electronic signatures, so it’s not as easy as going to a website, filling out a form and pressing submit. Unlike other states where you have simple ways of registering, like swiping your license or scanning your license or going to a website, unfortunately New York State is not there yet. There are steps being taken to get there, but we’re just a little behind the rest of the country.”
However, Unyts has partnered with the local Auto Bureau and the Erie County Clerk’s office to improve the registry numbers in the Buffalo Niagara region.
“About two or three years a go we started working…to raise awareness about the need, the steps to take to enroll someone and we’ve been doing that on a very regular basis,” Diina said.
Since April 2014, the number of registered organ donors in Erie County has increased by 62 percent, as a result of their efforts.
“Our rate of actual donation, meaning people who say ‘yes’ to donation when approached, is actually one of the highest in the country, which is great. Western New York is a very generous community and we have done so much education here with the community and with our hospitals,” Diina said. “So the rate of donation in Erie County, as well as the other eight counties in western New York, is very high compared to the rest of the country, which is great. It’s just that the registry still needs to be worked on.”
* Joseph Kasko contributed to this report.