April Is National Donate Life Month

By CATHY WALTERS
Los Alamos
 
National Donate Life Month (NDLM) was established by Donate Life America and its partnering organizations in 2003.
 
Celebrated in April each year, NDLM features an entire month of local, regional and national activities to help encourage Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and to celebrate those that have saved lives through the gift of donation.
 
NDLM honors the compassion and generosity of registered donors, donor families, and living donors. It also recognizes the commitment of researchers, innovators, champions, national partners and medical professionals who work tirelessly to save and heal lives through transplantation.
 
115,000 Americans and 800 New Mexicns are currently on the national transplant waiting list. Another person is added to the list every ten minutes, and on average, 22 people die every day because the organs they need are not donated in time.
 
The most effective way to address this health crisis is to educate and to encourage citizens to commit to registering their decision to be an organ, eye and tissue donor in the National Donate Life Registry. Go to registerme.org and spend about five minutes to potentially save a life. Of course you can even do this on your iPhone! I’m proud to say that 72 percent of Los Alamos residents are registered (one of the highest counties in the country!) but we could aim for 100 percent. Registration can also be done at the local MVD office.
 
To put a personal touch to this article, let me tell you my transplant story and explain why I am such a strong advocate for donation and an ambassador for New Mexico Donor Services.
 
In 2010, at the age of 65, I was diagnosed with a rare and progressive heart disease by my cardiologist in Albuquerque. I had a type of cardiopathy which caused arrhymias, so was given an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator). This plus medications controlled the disease for a few years. But in late 2012 it was pretty clear that my heart was failing and the next step, much to my dismay and shock, was a heart transplant! I was referred to the Transplant Center at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, where my daughter lives.
 
June 11, 2013, I was incredibly blessed to receive the “gift of life,” a new heart!  I am extremely grateful to my donor and her family every day for making this possible. I also was very fortunate to be at an excellent facility, to have the support of many friends and family, and especially to have my daughter as an amazing caregiver! I stayed in California for four months and made many trips back to the clinic for routine followup doctor visits and tests.
 
It was SO very good to get back home to the mountains in Los Alamos in October, just as the fall colors were at their height! Thanks to this miracle, I literally have a new life! Instead of being depressed and thinking I had no future, I now have returned to an independent and active life, traveling, exercising, and helping others.  
 
One of my passions is increasing the awareness of the need for more donors and promoting organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation. I hope anyone reading this has a little red heart on his/her driver’s license!   
 
My daughter and I were privileged to be part of Team New Mexico at the 2018 Transplant Games of America, held in Salt Lake City. The purpose of this biannual event is to celebrate life and to extend the legacy of donors through recipients’ transformations to better health. The Games also demonstrate hope and promise to the thousands of individuals ho are waiting for a life-restoring transplant and they serve as a tribute to honor donors – both living and deceased – whose generosity has saved or healed the lives of individuals in need. Besides all this, the Games are a competitive exhibition of the determination, tenacity and spirit of transplanted patients – made possible by the generosity of donors and their families. I stepped way out of my comfort zone and entered several swimming events – and the results are shown in the photo – eight gold medals! This was all made possible because someone said “YES!” I hope to go back next year to New Jersey. Donor Services of New Mexico provides a lot of support, generously covering much of the cost to attend.
 
We have also been honored to be volunteers to decorate the Rose Parade Donate Life Float the past three years! We have met so many amazing people, both courageous recipients and generous donor families. Be sure to watch for the Donate Life Float next Jan. 1! They estimate 10,000 volunteer hours are contributed each year.
 
I also volunteer for Organ Transplant Awareness Program OTAP). OTAP welcomes any transplant recipient or candidate, donor families, living donors, or anyone interested in our mission to join us! Our Annual Transplant Trek (up to 3 miles walk) takes place in Albuquerque on April 14 (details on the web site). Last year a Los Alamos High School senior was one of two recipients of our scholarship awards. If you or anyone in your family has been affected by transplantation, I encourage you to visit our website: OTAPNM.com
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