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Column: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano

Highlighting the importance of organ donation

By Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C-Corning)

ALBANY, April 11, 2024 -- As we start to get into the full swing of April, it is important to remember its significance as "National Donate Life Month."

Since my first election back in 2010, raising awareness about organ donation has been a very personal issue to me and one of my top legislative priorities. The numbers have improved incrementally over the years, but we still have so much work to do. One of the most important statistics I shared this week on the Assembly floor was that one person who donates at the time of their death can save up to eight lives and impact the lives of 75 others.

According to Donate Life New York, our state ranks 50th out of 52 states and territories in total organ donor enrollment. We have a 47% enrollment rate while the national average is 64%. As a state, we have the third-greatest need for organs but the third-worst enrollment rate.

Nearly 8,000 New Yorkers are on the waiting list for a transplant, and 1,100 of those people have been waiting for more than five years. Tragically, in 2022, nearly 400 New Yorkers died while waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. We can, and must, do better!

We have taken helpful actions to make it easier to register to become an organ donor in New York state. I believe the more we ask the question, “Will you register to be an organ donor and help save lives?” the more New Yorkers will say “Yes.” One of the successful steps we have taken over the years was the passage of "Lauren’s Law," which I was proud to co-sponsor, which does not allow the state to process a driver’s license application until the individual answers either "yes" or "skip this question" in regard to whether they would like to register as an organ donor. In addition to this important legislation that has boosted organ donor rates, we have also passed legislation to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to register their intent to become organ donors, along with creating a new online donor registry that allows individuals to officially register to become organ donors.

One of my proudest moments as a father was when I saw my children come home with their first driving permits and on the card it said they were organ donors. As I mentioned, this is a deeply personal issue to me. I have seen first-hand how organ donation can impact the quality of life of a family. You see, my sister, Teresa, was a juvenile diabetic and that disease took its toll on her body and organs over her lifetime. Teresa was a two-time organ transplant recipient. First, from the kindness of a stranger in 2000, and second, I had the privilege to donate a kidney to my sister in 2006. Unfortunately, Teresa passed away in 2013 at the age of 50. Despite Teresa’s death at such a young age, I still tell people she was a lucky one. She received two transplants.

I never knew how bad the numbers were in New York until I was elected in 2010 and saw how bad they truly were. These statistics certainly were eye-opening and motivated me to do more to promote education and awareness of this life-saving issue. As I said, Teresa was lucky to receive two transplants. Unfortunately, too many people die while waiting for that life-changing organ transplant. Working together, we can continue to improve these numbers and help save lives. And please remember, “one person can make a difference,” because just one person who donates at the time of their death can save up to eight lives and impact the lives of 75 others.

April is "National Donate Life Month," but I urge you to talk about this issue year-round, not just in April. We all have the opportunity to save someone’s life on any given day of the year. If you have already registered to become an organ donor, thank you. If you have not, please talk to your family and consider it. If you are interested in becoming an organ donor today, visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office or please register at Donate Life New York today: https://donatelife.ny.gov/register/. Thank you, and let’s continue to work together to help save lives.

Photo in text: Asssemblyman Phil Palmesano

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