(Buffalo, N.Y.) – Unyts, the western New York non-profit organization that promotes organ donation, has started working with public relations students at Buffalo State to help raise awareness of the issue.
According to government statistics, there are roughly 119,000 people on the organ donation waiting list in the U.S. and approximately 22 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant. Some have even called the lack of organ donors a “public health crisis.”
In New York state, someone dies every 18 hours while waiting for a transplant, according to Jeremy Morlock, the community engagement manager for UNYTS. Morlock appeared on the Buffalo Review March 13 to discuss organ donation.
“A lot of people don’t think about organ donation until it effects someone who is close to them,” said Morlock.
“Unfortunately it’s a problem we really have statewide. New York state has the lowest number of registered donors in relation to our population and part of that, we think, is just an issue with awareness. People don’t realize how great the need is for organ donation.”
Only 26 percent of state residents have registered as organ donors, which is the lowest rate in the nation, and in western New York about 36 percent of people are registered.
Morlock said Unyts works with the DMV, colleges, hospitals, and other community groups and non-profits to let people know about the need for organ donation.
Now Unyts will partner with public communication students at Buffalo State to create a campaign to draw attention to the lack of donors in the state.
“We really see that college students are a great audience for messages around organ donation. They may not have taken the time to register yet, but they’re old enough to make that decision,” Morlock said.
“We find working with students, it helps so much if that message is coming from their peers,” he said. “So working with the class really gives us a great opportunity to cultivate some ambassadors within the Buffalo State community.”
Morlock said UNYTS is also in constant need for blood donation, which can only be stored for about 47 days.
He said how the two slowest seasons for blood donation are the winter, because people are more prone to illnesses, and the summer because people are more likely to be busy and on vacation.
Recently, New York passed a law allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to become organ donors.
“We had found is that there were a lot of 16 and 17-year-olds, who were aware of the facts around organ donation, who were interested in registering, but when they went to the DMV for a license or a permit, they didn’t have that opportunity because they weren’t 18 yet,” he said. “So in the organ donation community, we’re really excited about that change in the law.
“I really think it’s an issue about life. Everyone is going to die at some point, but through donation, you have the opportunity to help others live. Organ and tissue donation really does save and enhance the lives of so many people.”
* Cheich Toure and Shaniya Graham contributed to this report.