DMV offices vie to enlist organ, tissue donors

Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2002

In a push to increase organ and tissue donations in Alaska, the Juneau and Fairbanks Division of Motor Vehicle offices will face off in a race to sign up the most new donation consent forms by July 31.

Driver Services Supervisor Kevin Burchfield is heading up the Juneau team and Field Office Manager Tom Pettijohn is leading the Fairbanks team. To motivate employees to enlist Alaska residents, the winner of the contest will shave his own head.

"We've been trying to get more people to be organ donors for some time," Burchfield said. "We decided to pick on the Fairbanks office a little bit."

Burchfield said it is simple to sign up to donate organs and tissue such as corneas, tensons and bones. The DMV has donor consent cards that can be filled out and mailed to Life Alaska Transplant, the company that helps match donated organs with recipients.

Donators will receive a card to carry in their wallets or purses and a sticker for their drivers' licenses.

Life Alaska has the highest consent rate in the nation, and since 1992 has had more than 1,500 donors, according to the organization.

"Alaska's people are neighbors helping neighbors," said Nancy Davis, community development coordinator with Life Alaska.

According to Life Alaska, as of July 2001, there were 77,447 people on the national waiting list for an organ transplant, and approximately 15 men, women and children on the waiting list die each day because there are not enough organs donated.

Davis said despite a common misconception otherwise, organs and tissues donated in Alaska are frequently given to Alaska recipients. The procedure used to acquire and disperse donated organs differs from the procedure used with donated tissues.

"An organ donation has to come from a person who is brain dead but on a ventilator so organs are still oxygenated," Davis said. "After the family gives consent for the donation, we talk to the United Network of Organ Sharing which determines who is on the national waiting list for organs."

Life Alaska calls the Virginia-based organization and lets them know the Alaska donor's size and blood type. UNOS then gives Life Alaska a list of people in the Northwest who are waiting for an organ.

Once the organs are placed with recipients, surgeons come from the Lower 48, remove the donated organs and transport them back to where the operation will take place.

"There is no transplant center for Alaska, so the recipient has to go outside," Davis said. "Hearts and lungs can only be out of a body for four to six hours."

While organs must be transferred within hours, tissue can be recovered up to 24 hours after the donator's death. Davis said because of the increased time window almost anyone can be a tissue donor and Life Alaska is able to offer tissue that is recovered in Alaska to Alaskans first, rather than referring to a regional list.

"There's virtually no waiting list for tissue for Alaskans," Davis said.

According to Davis, several myths surrounding organ and tissue donation exist.

Contrary to what is sometimes believed, organ donation does not disfigure a body and no money needs to be spent by donor families.

To contact the DMV in Juneau, call 465-4361. Life Alaska can be reached at either (907) 562-5433, (800) 719-5433 or www.lifealaska.org.

If you would like to consent to have organs or tissue donated through Life Alaska instead of the Juneau DMV, tell Life Alaska about this article and they will give the Juneau office credit in the contest.

Emily Wescott can be reached at ewescott@juneauempire.com.



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