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VCU community unites to promote organ donation awareness

VCU student organization and VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center partner to promote a simple, lifesaving message.

students tabling outside of a school building Students involved with the organization Student Organ Donation Advocates partnered with VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center to encourage students to become organ donors during National Donate Life Month. (Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

By Caroline Ward and Leigh Farmer

One organ, eye and tissue donor can save up to eight lives. Earlier this month, the Virginia Commonwealth University chapter of Student Organ Donation Advocates (SODA) and VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center held a “Check the Box” event aimed at illuminating the crucial need for organ, eye, and tissue donors. This event not only educated attendees on the significance of donation, but it also led to 41 individuals registering their lifesaving decision. Simply put – more than 320 lives could be saved by this legacy of choice.

National Donate Life Month, celebrated every April, is dedicated to encouraging people to register as organ, eye, and tissue donors and to celebrate those who have saved lives through the gift of donation. It’s a time when organizations across the country intensify their efforts to spread awareness about the life-altering impact of donation and how simple registering can be.

Donate Life Month not only brings transplantation to the forefront, it also honors the life and legacy of millions of recipients in the U.S. and their families, the donor families who say ‘yes’ in their time of grief, and the more than 170 million people who have registered their decision to be a donor and help others at the end of their life.

"The decision to register as a donor might seem small, but the impact is monumental," explained Sherri Newman, MSHA, associate vice president of Hume-Lee Transplant Center. “This event is pivotal to not only increase the number of registered donors, but also in educating our community to convey the immense need for donors who, one day, will offer someone a second chance at life.”

The highlight of the April 16 event was the participation of two VCU faculty members who are living kidney donors. Becky Durfee, M.S., the assistant chair of the College of Humanities and Sciences’ Department of Statistical Sciences and Operations Research, and Jeff Green, Ph.D., a professor from the Department of Psychology, shared their unique and deeply personal stories of giving.

In early 2024, Durfee donated a kidney to her friend’s brother, James Wood, a veteran who was told he would die waiting on the national transplant list. Knowing the certainty of Wood dying without a kidney in the next few years, Durfee felt called to donate.

“I am happy to shout my story from the rooftops if it will encourage more people to donate,” Durfee said. “James and I are both in agreement, if we can save even one person by sharing our experience… it will be worth it.”

Group of people talking outside of school buildings

VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center team members spoke with VCU students and staff about the organ donation process. (Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Green also donated in early 2024. He mentioned that donating his kidney was so easy, yet so personally fulfilling, he is already considering donating a portion of his liver, as well, to save yet another life.

Green’s living kidney donation was altruistic, meaning he does not know his recipient. Jeff hopes he can one day meet his recipient, once they’ve recovered, to see his gift of life in action and making a difference.

Durfee and Green’s unique perspectives and personal testimonies added a deeply poignant element to the discussions. They shared their motivations, the impact of their decisions on their own lives as well as on the lives of the recipients, and the overall positive outcomes that arose from their choice to become living donors. Such firsthand accounts are invaluable in demystifying the process and outcomes of living donation.

VCU SODA was proud to join forces with Hume-Lee Transplant Center, which is ranked number 17 in the country for number of transplants performed annually by the United Network for Organ Sharing.

VCU student and VCU SODA founder, Ria Mohan, is passionate about the Donate Life cause and message because of her aunt’s health care journey to find a kidney donor.

“Transplants truly save an entire community, touching the lives of everyone connected to the recipient and donor. It opens a well of compassion and opens our eyes to recognize and appreciate the humanity that moves healthcare forward," Mohan said.

The success of the event was marked not only by the number of new registrations, but also by the heightened awareness surrounding organ donation. Currently, more than 100,000 people in the United States are on the waiting list for an organ transplant, a statistic that highlights the critical shortage of registered donors. Each registration represents a beacon of hope for the thousands of individuals waiting for a life-saving transplant.

“It’s not a coincidence to me that when you sign-up to be an organ donor you get a heart added to your driver’s license,” said David Bruno, M.D., interim chair at Hume-Lee Transplant Center. “That donation really is a symbol of love.”

Hume-Lee plans to continue their outreach, spreading the word and encouraging more people to consider the legacy they can leave through organ donation. The collective efforts of students, health professionals, and educators during National Donate Life Month play a significant role in increasing the number of potential donors, and each new registration adds a glimmer of promise for the many patients and families awaiting transplant.