As an Ambassador for the California Transplant Donor Network, today I spoke to a health careers class at Philip & Sala Burton High School in San Francisco. The group of 28 juniors participated in the discussion and asked some great questions.
My co-presenter Caitlin and I prepared a script, some quick facts, a short video, an exercise, and of course, our own personal stories to share the details about organ donation. Our goal was to educate the students and make sure they were informed to make the best decision for themselves about whether or not to be an organ donor.
FACT: If you are between 13 and 17 years old, you can join the Donate Life California Registry, but your parents will make the final decision about organ and tissue donation at the appropriate time.
We kicked off the discussion by asking the students if they were planning to get their driver’s licenses soon. The hands shot up eagerly. But, did the students know they would be asked if they wanted to be a donor when they got their licenses? Murmurs of “I didn’t know they would ask that then” echoed through the classroom. So, what should you know about organ donation and transplantation to make that decision? We showed a brief video made by teens, for teens to answer that question.
After covering the basic facts about the need for organ donors (there are over 114,000 people in the U.S. waiting for transplants, 21,000 in California, and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ), we moved into our personal stories.
Telling my father’s story is usually as easy as telling about my daily commute. And, it has a great ending – my father received a heart and he is now an active cyclist. But standing in a high school, in front of a crowd of juniors, changed the ease with which I could talk. I felt like it was the Fall of 1995 again. I was no longer the presenter, but the 16 year old student getting pulled out of French class because my father was being transferred from Albany’s hospital to Massachusetts General Hospital that afternoon and I had to go say goodbye. Nothing was certain except for the fact that my father’s heart condition was deteriorating quickly and only a new heart could save him.
Choking back the tears, I somehow regained consciousness that I was the presenter with a positive story. I asked the students a quick question, “at what rate do you think my father’s heart was functioning to be near the top of the transplant list?” As they shouted out some numbers, I gathered my composure and finished the tale. I ended the presentation with photos of me and my father from our recent cycling race and triathlon. Applause. Phew!
We’ve been invited back to speak again to the Burton senior class. If you know of another school that would like to hear about organ donation, please contact us.