Schools sign on for donor drive
By Wendy Leonard
Published: Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009 11:27 p.m. MDT
Ten of 11 of the largest colleges and universities in Utah have signed on to drum up as much organ donation support as possible. The exception is Brigham Young University, which had to bow out due to the competitive nature of the activity.
In a letter concerning the collegiate initiative Donate Life Utah 2009, BYU Student Life Vice President Janet Scharman said that unless the organizers can confirm it is not a competition among schools, requiring the generation of a list of names, the private school cannot participate.
All nine public institutions and Westminster College, however, have pledged to do all they can to grow the http://www.yesutah.org/, online registry list of organ donors in the state of Utah by at least 9,000. The school generating the most new donors by Oct. 24, National Make a Difference Day, will receive $9,000 in scholarship money. Representatives from nearly all of the higher education institutions participating accepted $1,000 checks Wednesday to help kick off donation drive efforts at each of their schools.
"The power to make things happen lies within our youth," said David Nemelka, president of the Quest for the Gift of Life Foundation, which is sponsoring the event. "We are asking students to help save lives and make a difference."
Nemelka believes that Utah, which has already led the charge in organ donation in the country, will break records if college and university students come together for the cause. He said that online networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook will help to accomplish the goal like never before.
"We could not have done this five years ago," he said. "We now live in the digital age and college students are the volunteer army that can and wants to make a difference."
University of Utah student body President Tayler Clough said he willingly checked "yes" on his driver's license application at age 16, "just to make my parents mad." But since then, he said, they've come around and understand the positive influence an organ donor can have.
"It makes even more sense to me now," Clough said. "It's cool to know that if you die, you're still going to be useful to someone."
Mallory Wahlstrom, BYU student and recent winner of the Miss Kaysville pageant, knows that usefulness first-hand after becoming a good Samaritan donor and giving a kidney to her older brother, Davis High School history teacher Andy Wahlstrom, just four weeks ago.
"When my brother's kidneys failed, it was a life-or-death situation," she said, adding that it caused her to have a change of heart and instantly become a donor. "It was very painful and difficult to watch my brother suffer. … He was a changed person from the very day the surgery was done."
The pageant queen competed while still in a very weakened condition, just one week following the surgery, supporting a platform of organ donation and winning the crown.
"It was a small price to pay for my brother's life," Wahlstrom said.
Overall, the students hope to generate more understanding for the organ donation program, mostly that volunteer donors won't be pressured into giving up what they have inside, which Clough said he has found to be a big concern.
More than 103,000 people in the U.S. are currently waiting for an organ transplant, with nearly 380 of them in Utah, 16 of whom are under 17 years old, according to Intermountain Donor Services. Their records indicate that 18 patients die every day while waiting for transplant organs.
One person can potentially save nine lives by donating a healthy heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and small intestine.
"A registration drive of this magnitude will set a new national standard, but more importantly, it will help save the lives of those waiting for an organ transplant," Nemelka said. By achieving their goal, he said more Utahns will receive a second chance at life.
"We are our brother's keeper and this can be solved if we work together," he said. "It takes the whole community."
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