Some public health issues require the entire community coming together to solve the problem. Organ donation and transplantation is one such issue. Without organ and tissue donors, there can be no lifesaving or life-changing transplants. Fortunately, Utahns are a generous and caring bunch when it comes to sharing themselves, literally, to save another.
With more than 70 organ donors and more than 500 tissue donors, 2007 was a record year for Intermountain Donor Services, Utah's organ recovery agency. More than 200 people received organs, and thousands of people received tissues. Someone's mother received the heart she so desperately needed. A baby received a kidney and is no longer on dialysis treatment. A burn victim received a skin graft. And the list goes on.
Last month, I had the privilege of honoring three Utah hospitals for their outstanding work in recovering organs for transplants. LDS Hospital, University of Utah Medical Center and Primary Children's Medical Center received national awards for their lifesaving work. Their skilled staff and compassion for patients and their families have ensured that people who have indicated their desire to donate their organs can do so.
Twenty-five years ago I had the opportunity to help write federal legislation that established the United Network for Organ Sharing. UNOS paved the way for the organ recovery program we have today, including the "Yes!" Utah donor registry. Utah's registry is the most successful in the nation, with more than 1 million Utahns signed up to be organ donors. By visiting www.yesutah.org or calling 866-YES-UTAH you can add your name to the growing list of Utah donors.
But Utah's commitment to saving lives does not end there. To help families with children who have received organ transplants, the Utah Legislature created the Kurt Oscarson Children's Organ Transplant Fund. By simply checking a box on their Utah state tax return, Utahns donated more than $93,000 last year to this worthy cause. So not only are Utahns signing up to be donors, they are also opening their pocketbooks to help families who need financial assistance.
Utah's living-kidney-donor program, Good Samaritan Living Kidney Donation, encourages healthy individuals to donate a kidney to a stranger in need. It is one of the most successful programs in the nation. Since 2003, 32 Utahns have stepped forward and selflessly donated a kidney to a complete stranger.
Further, our state Legislature has offered 30 days paid leave for any state employee who becomes a living donor. And for all citizens, the Legislature has passed a bill to give up to a $10,000 tax credit to offset lost wages, meals and travel expenses for living donors.The message is clear. Utah is committed to organ donation. Utah is committed to saving lives. If you haven't already become a part of this worthy movement, I hope you'll take the time now to make this important commitment. By donating your organs, your money or both, you could help save a life this year.
David N. Sundwall, M.D., is the executive director of the Utah Department of Health and chairman of the Kurt Oscarson Children's Organ Transplant Coordinating Committee.