May 21, 2024

Healt Hid

Because health is very important to us

N.Y. can boost organ donation rates & save lives

4 min read

At 10 years old, Payton Garcia Archie from Albany has survived open heart surgery, two heart attacks, four strokes, and both a kidney and heart transplant. While Payton’s journey has been anything but easy, she’s a fighter. Today, she loves jazz dancing and has dreams of being a clothing designer for dogs when she grows up.

April is Donate Life Month, an opportunity to celebrate those who generously gave the gift of life through organ and tissue donation and the triumphant stories of people who received a lifesaving transplant. But it’s also an opportunity to raise awareness of the roughly 8,000 New Yorkers currently on the national organ transplant waitlist — 1,000 of whom have been there for more than five years.

New York has one of the lowest organ and tissue donor registry enrollment rates in the country at 48% — well below the national average of 64%. And rates are as low as 29% in Queens and the Bronx. As a result, approximately 400 New Yorkers die each year due to a shortage of donors. These are lives — parents, friends, community members — that we can save if we improve our donation rates.

But New Yorkers aren’t inherently less generous than people in other states — our challenge is logistical. More than 80% of registrations happen through interactions with the DMV, such as obtaining or renewing a driver’s license or vehicle registration. But New York, with large metropolitan areas, has one of the lowest car usage rates in the country. As a result, New Yorkers — particularly downstate — have fewer opportunities than others to register as organ donors.

Here’s where legislative solutions come into play: opening what we call “Doorways to Donation” to provide more opportunities to register. Over the past decade, we’ve worked to pass legislation that adds this lifesaving question when you’re getting everything from a hunting and fishing license to a NYC Municipal ID card.

We’re particularly proud that New York is now the only state where people have the opportunity to register to be a donor when registering to vote or enrolling in health insurance coverage through the New York State of Health Marketplace.

By putting the question in more places, we’re normalizing it and increasing donors. In just the past decade, Donate Life New York State has more than doubled the number of organ donors in New York — from 21% in 2013, to 48% today. The impact of what that means: a 98% increase in the number of organ donors authorized by the registry and more lives being saved annually through organ transplantation.

But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

This year, Donate Life is working alongside legislative leaders to open more doorways. Last week in support of those efforts, we held a bipartisan rally to express the urgency to our elected officials.

Last month, actor and comedian Tracy Morgan joined the cause to raise awareness and reach more New Yorkers. The state Department of Motor Vehicles, the NYS Association of County Clerks, and the NYS Automobile Dealers Association continue to use their reach to educate New Yorkers on the importance of saving and healing lives through donation.

Hundreds of advocates, including those who themselves — or their loved ones — were impacted by organ and tissue donation, are leading every day in their own communities to raise awareness, from speaking before the Legislature to hosting registration drives and talking to their friends and colleagues.

We’ve made significant progress in the past decade, but we can’t slow down. And supporters across our state — like Jim Foti Jr. from Buffalo — are working tirelessly to make sure this momentum carries forward.

Like many, Jim doesn’t know why he wasn’t an organ donor, it just “never crossed [his] mind to check that box.” But in 2021, his long-term heart condition got worse and he needed a transplant. After the life-saving transplant, one of the first things he did was register as an organ donor and encourage his friends and family, saying: “if you pass away and you have the ability to give your organs to somebody else to extend their life, what legacy is greater than that?”

Go to Donate Life New York State’s website to learn more and register to be a donor — everyone over 16 years old is eligible. Together, we can build a state where every New Yorker in need of a transplant has a chance at a healthy life alongside their families, friends, and communities.

Peoples-Stokes is the New York State Assembly majority leader. Tator is the executive director of Donate Life New York State.

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