May 21, 2024

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Louisiana organ donations break records | News

3 min read

Joan Robinson has a teddy bear with a heartbeat — her daughter’s.

On April 2, 2021, Alexis Robinson was T-boned by a drunk driver. As doctors took the 17-year-old off life support, Joan Robinson faced a somber decision in her daughter’s final moments: Should she donate her organs and tissue?

“We said yes, without hesitation,” she said.

Now, in addition to the teddy bear that plays a recording of Alexis’ heartbeat, her legacy lives on in the lives of four different people whose lives were saved through transplants. 

“I hope to one day meet them,” Robinson said.

The East Baton Rouge coroner’s office and the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency invited Robinson to share her daughter’s story Thursday to highlight what organ donation can achieve — but also make note of a recent feat. March marked the highest number of organ donations, tissue donations and completed transplants of any given month in LOPA’s 36-year history, said Diane Brockmeier, the agency’s interim CEO.

LOPA facilitates the state’s organ and tissue donations and helps turn some families’ hardest days into life-saving opportunities. In March, LOPA reported 33 donors statewide, which resulted in 100 organs transplanted, Brockmeier said.

It is a high number for single month, considering 725 organs were transplanted in all of 2023, according to LOPA’s annual data.

“This time last year, we were doing 30-40 (transplants),” she said, adding she believes the rise reflects a deepened local understanding of what donation can do. “I think part of it is just the benevolence of the community and their willingness to donate … the more people we get on the registry the more families we have in a position to honor that gift.”

Currently, around 2,000 people in Louisiana are on a waiting list to receive an organ, Brockmeier said. And while around 2.7 million Louisianians are registered as donors, the agency’s leader said they can never have too many willing to donate.

At the same Thursday news conference, parish coroner Beau Clark gave his annual report for 2023, making note of trends in the area’s homicides, mental health, drug-related issues and more. But the 12-year office holder also shared his own belief that “out of death can come life.”

“Families are presented with this option of taking something that’s potentially very traumatic, very tragic, and turning it into into a life-saving thing,” Clark said. 

As Robinson represented one side of that coin Thursday, another speaker who received a donation herself gave proof in the flesh as a recipient whose life was saved.

Sheryl Armstrong, 58, is now “alive and thriving.” But in February 2020, she was gravely in need of a new heart.

As the first lady of the New St. Luke Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Armstrong might call herself especially blessed to get one, as she was the second-to-last local transplant before procedures were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Sarcoidosis diagnosis — an inflammatory disease affecting the lungs in Armstrong’s case — led to her needing a heart transplant. She received the call that she would get one the day of her daughter’s wedding and four years later said she is “eternally grateful” to the donor’s family.

“I struggled to write the donor family because I processed their loss also,” Armstrong said. “I struggle between their death and my joy.”

Brockmeier proudly noted LOPA’s recent achievements regarding state transplant numbers Thursday but also said loftier goals can be reached and encouraged people to urge family members to register as donors.

“Families are in a position to generate their last legacy and last with,” she said. “Whatever can be done help those in need is the most important thing.”

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