Editor’s Note: Tim Brennan, a sophomore at Regis High School in New York City, is an organ donation advocate. He is a frequent contributor to The Falcon, a sports newspaper at Regis, and co-hosts a sports podcast. He is also active in public forum debate in Manhattan and plays junior varsity basketball. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
As a 16-year-old in New York state, there are a lot of things I cannot do. I can’t join the Army, I can’t get a driver’s license, I can’t vote, and I can’t drink. But there’s one thing I can do. I can register to become an organ donor, something that before February 14, 2017, no 16-year-old in New York could do. Last year, New York joined 47 other states in the nation that allow 16-year-olds to register as organ donors. Due to the recent legislation from Albany, high schoolers can now help a cause greater than themselves: the organ donation crisis.
I realize most of my peers feel invulnerable and organ donation is not a topic discussed at the dinner table. But that’s what I intend to change. I’m hoping I can convince my peers and people across all ages about how important organ donation is and that they need to make their intentions known to their families.
You never know when the problem will affect you or a loved one. When my aunt was only 15, she found out she needed a kidney transplant. That was her first of four that she has needed in her lifetime, but thankfully she received her first three from family members and the fourth from a close friend. Both my grandparents and cousin are living kidney donors for my Aunt Betsy. As you can see, organ donation has always been an important cause for my family.
But others are not so lucky. In the United States, there are more than 95,000 people waiting for a kidney and more than 114,000 on the overall organ donation list. But New York is the worst place to live if you need a transplant.
The wait for an organ in New York is three to five years versus one to two years for the rest of the country. Many patients die while waiting – in fact one every 18 hours in New York, according to LiveOnNY, a nonprofit that promotes organ donation.
Although it seems like New Yorkers are rarely ranked last at anything, they are ranked 50th in the United States for registered organ donors – 32% versus 56% for other US residents, LiveOnNY says. Things may look bleak in my home state, but that’s where teens can make a difference. And spreading awareness is not a hard task.
On Thursday at my high school, I set up an “Organ Donor Awareness” table in conjunction with our blood drive to promote organ donation at our school and try to get my fellow classmates to register as organ donors. There will be two more events at Regis during May to promote organ donation awareness.
In addition, I am trying to get organ donation implemented into our health curriculum, something that other schools in NYC have already done. My hope is that after launching organ donor awareness at Regis High School, that I can recruit some teens at other New York City high schools to be ambassadors to promote organ donation, too.
At 16, I have a new appreciation for how an organ donor can save someone’s life. The good news is that I am also now in a unique position potentially to save someone’s life. Not too many 16-year-olds have two grandparents as living kidney donors and an aunt as a four-time kidney transplant recipient. I know how life-changing a transplant can be for everyone involved.
While recently many people have been shedding light on the deaths gun violence causes, and rightly so, few teens have brought up how important an issue organ donation has become to our country and especially our state. Like gun violence, this is something about which people my age can make a difference.
April, known as Donate Life Month, may have just ended but that does not mean organ donation awareness should end, too. One organ donor can save eight lives, according to LiveOnNY, and there is no risk to filling out a two-minute application to become one. It is an important cause to me and my family, and as time goes on, unless we make a change, the problem will only worsen.
Have a heart and be an organ donor; you don’t need them where you’re going.