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HOSA students help give the Gift of Life

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published January 10, 2020

 HOSA WCS CPC student Madison Rajewski was “very grateful” for the opportunity of helping to save another’s life.

HOSA WCS CPC student Madison Rajewski was “very grateful” for the opportunity of helping to save another’s life.

Photo provided by Heather Britt


WARREN/STERLING HEIGHTS — Knowing approximately 3,000 Michigan patients are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants, two local HOSA chapters participated in the recent Gift of Life Michigan HOSA Challenge.

The three-week challenge, held Nov. 4-22, was a competition to see which HOSA chapter could add the most new names to the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. Twenty-five schools participated statewide and registered a total of 1,352 organ donors. The Sanilac Career Center had the most donor registrations with 260. Donors agree to donate their organs to Gift of Life Michigan after they die.

Gift of Life Michigan, headquartered in Ann Arbor, is a federally designated organ and tissue recovery program that provides services for organ donation in Michigan. The nonprofit organization operates as a liaison between donors, hospitals and transplant centers. Many of the organization’s volunteers are transplant recipients or family members of those whose organs have been donated.

HOSA, which once stood for Health Occupations Students of America, is now known as HOSA-Future Health Professionals. HOSA was created in 1976 with the idea of providing students opportunities to develop as a leader and a future employee. HOSA operates as an integral component of the health science education curriculum.

HOSA students at Warren Woods Tower High School and at the Warren Consolidated Schools’ Career Prep Center held Gift of Life challenges. At WWTHS, senior Kalema Burrell led the drive.

“We had the goal to get as many people as we could to be organ donors and how it works,” she said. “We mostly shared information about it. It helps save lives. It gives people another chance at their lives and gives them a second chance at living. It’s a good cause.”

Both schools had tables set up during the challenge. Potential donors also could sign up via the Gift of Life website. Jackie Kausch and Marie VanHuysse are the WWTHS health services teachers.

“I had Kalema as a junior. It’s been great seeing her mature and take on this leadership role,” VanHuysse said. “I think the response from the other students was a large part of her leadership.”

According to the Gift of Life, WWTHS recruited four donors. The WCS Career Prep Center had 52 donors register.

“People of all ages can join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry,” Gift of Life Michigan Community Relations Coordinator Alison Gillum said. Gillum said that even people with health conditions can register, and their tissue and corneas can be donated. Gillum said that most people tend to register at their Secretary of State office, but they also can sign up at the website or by calling (866) 500-5801.

Last year, 340 people became organ donors, leading to 1,041 lifesaving organ transplants. As of Jan. 1, more than 2,000 patients are on the waiting list for an organ. The most in-demand organ is the kidney, followed by the liver and heart. Other needs include the pancreas, small intestines, heart valves, veins, tendons and bone.

“You can save up to eight lives whenever you donate your organs and help somebody live,” Gillum said. “We look at the donors providing hope and promise for everyone waiting for an organ transplant. It’s a last option for them.”

Gillum has met many organ transplant recipients. She always notices “how incredibly grateful they are for a gift at a second chance of life. It’s pretty touching.”

The WCS CPC has 85 HOSA students. They began the health science program in September 2018 and will graduate from high school and the health science program in June 2020. CPS student Madison Rajewski was “very grateful” for the opportunity of helping to save another’s life. She wanted to participate to provide information on how to save a life.

“Because they’ll give their organs to someone in need and save a life or more,” student Simona Gjorgijoska said in an email.    

According to CPC health science II explorations teacher Heather Britt, some students that approached the Gift of Life table at CPC were scared, thinking they had to donate something at that moment.  

“The HOSA students explained to them that this was a chance to sign up to save lives and improve the lives of people without sight etc.,” Britt said in an email. “It was explained that only in the unfortunate event of their death, they could live on by donating their organs and tissues to save others. I could tell when it was explained student to student, they understood and even wanted to learn more. Others were so happy to share information. They felt proud to share their professional knowledge to increase awareness and gain donors.”

Britt’s own personal experiences prompted the CPC HOSA students to participate in the Gift of Life Challenge. Her brother Frank Sorrentino, 25, died in 2014 from undiagnosed heart valve issues. His organs were donated to Gift of Life and also the Vision Institute of Michigan.

“Upon his death, our family has been devastated. The only light in the darkness was receiving letters from the Gift of Life and the Vision Institute of Michigan sharing that my brother lived on in others,” Britt said. “He helped two regain vision, and other tissues were sent several other places. Those letters made the family proud he was a donor and glad that through our loss others could have life and sight.”