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On average, every 11 minutes another name is added to list of people waiting for transplants and between 18 and 20 pass away daily while they wait. Fortunately for Georgians, Marietta’s WellStar Kennestone Hospital recognizes the importance of helping those waiting for an organ. The hospital recently received a Department of Health and Human Services Bronze Medal of Honor for having outstanding organ donation rates between April 1, 2010, and March 31, 2012. They reached a 79 percent conversion rate, meaning 79 percent of the people who had the potential to be an organ donor actually donated. Because of this, 80 life-saving organs were recovered for people in end-stage organ failure. Kennestone earned the previously annual award in 2009 and 2010 before it became a biannual honor.

As Kaysha Cranon, senior public affairs coordinator for LifeLink of Georgia, says, “[Organ donors] were able to help the thousands that are waiting on our transplant waiting list here in Georgia. The need is very great; there are more than 3,600 people in Georgia waiting, so it’s a very big honor to get on a national level that says you’re addressing and helping people in your service area, in order to give that life-saving gift of an organ transplant.”

That national recognition would not be possible without the efforts of local hospital staff. “What we do in our hospital is a lot of education of the nurses and physicians about what potential organ donors might look like,” says Laura Garlow, trauma program manager at Kennestone. “When we have patients [who] the medical staff [recognize as having] non-survivable injuries, we notify LifeLink, as they help us [provide] information to families for the opportunity to donate, if that’s the wish of their loved ones. We’ve spent a lot of time educating our nurses and our physicians about the need for organ tissue donations and the opportunities to create a positive experience for the families when they’ve lost a loved one.”

In Georgia, a whopping 3,363 people on the transplant list need kidneys, 51 need lungs and 54 need a new heart. This Valentine’s Day is also National Donor Day, which is focused on five points of life: organs, tissues, marrow, platelets and blood. National Donor Day was started in 1998 by a partnership of the Saturn Corporation and the United Auto Workers and garnered the support of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To support the cause, many non-profit health organizations, including WellStar, sponsor blood and marrow drives and organ/tissue sign-ups across the nation. “We usually do things through Donate Life Georgia, which is a non-profit organization tasked with educating the state of Georgia about organ and tissue donation,” says Cranon. “What we do is honor and highlight different transplant recipients and bring their stories to the media to create awareness statewide. Last year we highlighted heart recipients because it was February and Valentine’s Day.”

There are many ways to get involved with National Donor Day, and it starts at your local donor registry. When applying for or renewing a driver’s license, it’s as simple as checking the organ donor box. You can also visit donatelifegeorgia.org/register and sign up online. Once you’ve made the commitment to be an organ donor, tell those you love. Sharing the news with your family and friends may help them understand the importance of donating. “So far 4.3 million Georgians … are on the registry. There’s about 9 million people in Georgia so we have some work to do, but we certainly are making strides,” says Cranon. Georgia has the No. 8 registry in the nation in terms of effectiveness and number of people who are on it.

According to Elle Pallent, hospital liaison between WellStar and LifeLink of Georgia, WellStar is coming up with many ways to honor those who donate both on Feb. 14 and in the month of April. In addition to spreading the word and participating in national campaigns, you can get involved with local and national groups to help promote donation in your community. Workplace Partnership for Life (WPFL) is a national initiative uniting the federal government with the organ donation community and businesses committed to spreading awareness of the importance of donor registration. The WPFL has helped register more than 580,000 new donors in the United States.

“It’s so important that hospitals are doing all they can … because there are so many people in need and their only hope for survival is organ donation,” says Cranon. “When someone says ‘I want to be an organ donor,’ they’re really saying, ‘I want to give life to someone else.’ What they’re doing is giving a gift that no one else could give this recipient, and that is the gift of life.”

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