Locals work to improve state’s organ donation numbers

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published May 1, 2013

 Art Moran, of Art Moran Buick GMC on Telegraph Road in Southfield, is promoting the Donate Life license plate campaign.

Art Moran, of Art Moran Buick GMC on Telegraph Road in Southfield, is promoting the Donate Life license plate campaign.

Photo by Andrew Potter

Donate Life: By the numbers

• Michigan currently has 3,100 people on the organ transplant waiting list. Nationally, more than 114,000 are on the list.

• Currently, more than 2,500 Michiganders are on the waiting list for a kidney, 332 for a liver, 86 for a heart and 78 for a lung.

• On average, 17 Michigan residents per week have organ transplants.

• According to national statistics, 18 people die each day from the lack of available organs for transplant.

• In 2011, Michigan’s Organ Donor Registry jumped by 398,000 people — a 25 percent increase. In 2010, 320,000 joined.

• Of the state’s 10 million residents, about 2.7 million are registered organ donors.

• As of 2007, residents no longer sign the backs of their Michigan driver’s licenses to indicate their wish to be an organ and tissue donor. Instead, they must join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry and receive a red heart logo for their license or state ID.

• In 2008, Michigan had a record 327 organ donors, who gave about 900 organs to those on the waiting list.

• More than 1,000 Michiganders receive a sight-restoring corneal transplant each year; currently, there is no waiting list for a cornea transplant in Michigan.

• A single donor can save up to eight lives and improve the lives of more than 50 people.

SOUTHFIELD — It was just five days between when Mike Roman, a 56-year-old Berkley resident, found out he was sick and when he needed a new heart in order to live.

“I went to work on a Monday and worked my normal 11 hours. Did a 10-hour shift on Tuesday and, by Wednesday, needed to go to the doctor. He thought I had pneumonia,” Roman, who used to work in scrap metal processing, said. “He said to come back in a few days if I didn’t feel better. I didn’t, so I went back in, and he said I had it in both lungs.”

Thinking he needed a fairly standard workup, Roman was admitted to Beaumont for an MRI and treatment to rid him of the infection. But then they kept asking if he had pain.

“Pain? No I don’t have any pain,” he told them. “Next thing you know, there’s a cardiologist in my face telling me I was having a heart attack.”

Roman woke up from a cardiac stent operation being told he needed a new heart at the age of 52 — that’s the story he shares to encourage folks to donate organs. As Michigan marks Donate Life month to increase low statewide registration, Roman learned firsthand how crucial having a donor is.

“They told me right from the beginning that it wasn’t going to be easy,” he said, adding that, while on the list to wait for a new heart, he was hooked up to a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, that functions as a mechanical heart.

“With the LVAD, it makes it easier to wait longer for the heart, but because you’re on a device, it puts you further behind on the list since you are being supported.”

It was 15 months later, on June 9, 2009, when Roman received a heart at the University of Michigan. It’s a heart he says has worked flawlessly since, and it’s changed his own perspective on organ donation.

“I knew about organ donation before, but I wasn’t registered. I am now, and so is my whole family,” he said.

Roman, his wife of nearly 34 years, and his two daughters are not only registered donors now, but all are active volunteers for Gift of Life Michigan. He commonly shares his story around metro Detroit and encourages others to make the decision sooner, rather than later.

“What’s the greatest gift you can give? Life to another person,” he said. “We don’t want to see anyone die, but people do, that’s a fact of life. If you can help, why not?”

Roman said that, once there is a death in the family, there’s enough weighing on the family to decide then, so talking about it beforehand and making the decision can allow any viable organs to be used to help someone continue living and honoring the donor.

Leading the effort to increase Michigan’s numbers is Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. Since being elected in 2010, she has worked to change the approach of organ-donor awareness by creating an advisory task force, using social media and giving talks around the state.

On April 18, she paid a visit to Southfield’s Art Moran Buick GMC on Telegraph Road and, alongside President and CEO Tom Moran, promoted the Donate Life license plate campaign.

“The plates are just an advertisement about donating; the ultimate goal is to get people to register to become a donor. Since we are a car dealership, we tie in naturally with the plates effort,” Moran said. “When Ruth Johnson took over, we were way behind other states (in donor registration). She’s done a really good job getting this going for the state of Michigan.” The state lags behind the national average by 5 percent.

In 2011 alone, registration jumped 25 percent, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Johnson’s message is that there’s still many more lives to be saved, however.

“Here in Michigan, our friends, our neighbors are waiting for things that we sometimes take for granted — to be able to see, to have a functioning kidney, to breathe without assistance, or the very gift of life,” Johnson said in a statement. “We’ve had so much success building Michigan’s Organ Donor Registry, but we can and will do better for the 3,100 people who are still waiting for that life-saving phone call.”

Moran and his team have a goal to sell 250 of the Donate Life plates before August; the cost is $35, and not only are they installed on each of the dealerships company and loaner vehicles, but they have been purchased for the employees and will be given to every customer who buys a car through July, he explained.

Anyone may purchase a Donate Life plate for $35, and $25 goes directly to the cause, Moran added.

“It’s a good cause. It doesn’t cost anything for anyone to sign up, and it can help save a lot of lives and help people live better lives,” he said. “One donor can improve the lives of up to 50 people, and that’s huge.”

Similar to Roman, it wasn’t until organ donation hit Moran in a personal way that he began contemplating signing up, himself. The first exposure came when his son’s hockey teammate died at the age of 15 and donated his organs.

“He was just a 15-year-old kid and the first donor I was aware of. It helped his family cope a little more knowing that he helped so many people,” he said. “It was a tragic loss, but something good came out of it.”

Five years ago, Moran had an employee who needed a heart transplant. He can no longer work with the company but keeps in touch, Moran added.

Last year, Moran added his name to the list of more than 2.7 million Michigan residents who will donate life.

For more information on the Donate Life campaign, visit www.giftoflifemichigan.org. To join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry, visit www.michigan.gov/sos or any Secretary of State branch office.