An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 brain deaths occur in the United States each year, but only about 20 percent of those people become organ donors. Yet, physicians say a single donor could donate organs and tissues that could possibly save or help 13 recipients.

To remind people that they're giving the "gift of life" through organ donations, National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week is being recognized in Utah and throughout the United States, April 24 to 30.Among those celebrating will be Tony Armstrong, a television producer who suffered kidney failure two years ago.

"I came down with a flu that dragged on and on," said the now healthy 26-year-old man. Following his third physical examination, physicians diagnosed his problem as kidney failure and immediately hospitalized him.

Armstrong, then 24, spent the next seven months on dialysis before receiving a kidney transplant.

Since, he's had only one minor bout with rejection and was hospitalized for 11/2 days so his doctor could adjust his medication.

"Kidney transplantation has grown from being a relatively experimental procedure in the early '60s to being a well-established method to preserve life and provide a normal existence for those who have developed chronic kidney failure and are at the end of the road," said Dr. Saulo Klahr, vice president of the National Kidney Foundation and chairman of the National Medical Advisory Board.

Klahr, who was in Utah to kick off the week's activities, attributed the success to new, more effective anti-rejection drugs that "dramatically improve the ability of the recipient to maintain a foreign kidney."

"Most drafted kidneys survive and function well for a year in at least 95 percent of the cases," he said. "Survival of the graft for five years approaches 80 to 85 percent."

Klahr said that although the number of kidney transplants has increased on the average by 12.6 percent each year since 1981, two years ago some 9,000 Americans were left waiting for a donor organ.

One of those who will soon be put on the waiting list is Matthew Holt, a 17-year-old Bingham High School student, who undergoes dialysis at the University of Utah Dialysis Center three times a week. He has already rejected one transplant, and one day will need another.

Armstrong feels his chances are good that he, too, will be back on dialysis. "I honestly have to be frank; the chances are good, but I have learned to cope with that," he said.

Organ donation will be an issue difficult to ignore Monday through Friday, when a host of activities will be highlighted.

More than 1,000 balloons, honoring the Mountain West's residents who have benefited from organ transplants, will be released April 25 at 10 a.m. from the steps of the State Capitol, as Gov. Norm Bangerter signs a proclamation recognizing Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week in Utah.