Gov. Dave Heineman drew attention to the need for organ donation Wednesday, emphasizing its importance with three women who either have had organ transplants or will need one.
Two of the women are state directors.
Dr. Joann Schaefer, the state’s chief medical officer, received a liver from a living donor in 2008. Beverly Neth, motor vehicles department director, has had two kidney transplants, with donations from each of her two sisters.
In 1993, Neth’s sister, Pam Reicks, donated a kidney when Neth’s kidneys failed because of a condition known as IgA nephropathy. It causes parts of the kidney that contribute to filtering blood to become and stay inflamed, and eventually the entire kidney becomes damaged.
Her first transplant functioned well for 13 years, she said, and in 2006 she needed another kidney, which she received from her sister, LuAnn Reicks.
“There’s so many people out there who are waiting,” she said. “And we want to raise awareness of not only the gift that you can make through your (driver’s) license and through the registry, but also … if there’s a friend or loved one that we can help I hope that we’ll consider doing that.”
It is gratifying to know, she said, that the department of motor vehicles plays a role in supporting organ and tissue donation by allowing people to designate themselves as donors on their driver’s license.
Fourteen Nebraska counties, including Lancaster, Cass and Sarpy counties, had at least 50 percent of applicants for driver’s licenses or state ID cards join the donor registry in 2011.
And if 500 drivers apply for Donate Life specialty license plates, along with a $70 annual fee, those plates would become available.
In Nebraska, 450 individuals are on a waiting list for organ and tissue donations. In 2011, 261 Nebraskans received organ transplants.
At the end of 2011, 699,015 Nebraskans were designated donors on the Nebraska Donor Registry. That’s an increase of 12,000 since the end of 2010.
Lisa Carmichael, vice president of Donate Life Nebraska, said at Heineman’s news conference that last year 47 people in Nebraska died while waiting for a transplant.
Carmichael, herself, will someday need a heart transplant, she said, because of a familial condition that causes cardiomyopathy. Her sister had a transplant in 2006. In 1988, her mother passed away while waiting for a donated heart.
Carmichael said that on April 21 on the Bob Kerrey pedestrian bridge linking Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa, people will join hands at 1 p.m. in a visual display to celebrate life and honor organ and tissue donors.
April 20 is National Donate Life Blue and Green Day, and people are encouraged to wear blue and green to bring awareness to the need to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor. Those who do can post their photo on the Donate Life Nebraska Web site at facebook.com/DonateLifeNebraska.
Carmichael said each person who signs up as a donor can potentially save eight lives through organ donation, restore sight to two people through cornea donation and improve the mobility and health of up to 50 others through tissue donation.
“These are real lives that are being dramatically impacted by Nebraskans making the decision to sign up on the Nebraska Donor Registry,” she said.
Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or firstname.lastname@example.org — You can follow JoAnne’s tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.