By ROBIN MARTIN
Seventeen people die every day waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant, according to the Intermountain Donor Services. Two BYU students are trying to change this.
Former Miss Utah Jaclyn Herrin, a senior from Lehi, majoring in English, along with Miss Idaho Falls Shalyse Walker, a freshman, are using their pageant titles to promote organ and tissue donation.
Both women speak at schools and businesses about how to become a registered donor.
According to the Intermountain Donor Services, a nonprofit organization dedicated to recovering and transplanting organs for people living in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, approximately 60 people per year in Utah become organ donors.
“This number seems low, but each donor can help save up to nine recipients,” said Alex McDonald, director of public education for Intermountain Donor Services.
Each day 100 people are added to the organ waiting list. In Utah, 325 people are currently waiting for a lifesaving transplant.
Anyone from birth to about 80 years old can be an organ and tissue donor. Eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis at the time of death.
“When people say they don’t want to be a donor, it is usually because they don’t know the facts,” McDonald said.
The difference between organ and tissue eligibility is the donor’s medical state at the time of death.
Organ transplants takes place in a controlled environment, when the donor’s heart is still beating yet has been declared brain dead by a physician.
Because brain death is not a common occurrence, viable donors are rare said McDonald.
Tissue donation (eyes, bone, skin, veins, heart valves, tendon and so forth) can take place even after the donor’s heart has stopped beating.
As Miss Idaho Falls Walker will be participating in events such as a benefit golf tournament, a benefit concert, and visiting schools to promote and education of organ and tissue donation.
“I have been touched personally by this, and have seen first hand how a donor can save lives,” Walker said. “I have also seen friends die who where still waiting for a transplant.”
Walker’s grandfather, Von Walker, received a heart transplant on Feb. 3, 1993. He has been healthy ever since.
The heart donor for Von Walker, a 17 year-old from Phoenix, was shot to death.
“The person who saved my grandfather is a hero to me,” Walker said. “Everyone who is a registered donor is a true hero.”
Like Walker, Herrin based her platform when she was Miss Utah in 2001-2002 on organ and tissue donation.
As Miss Utah she spent most of my time at schools and in drivers training classes speaking on organ and tissue donation.
Herrin continues advocating organ and tissue donation as the current spokesperson for the Intermountain Donor Services of Utah and board member for the Quest for the Gift of Life Foundation, and speaking at local schools and businesses.
Walker has also been working with the Intermountain Donor Services to promote organ and tissue donation.
McDonald said Walker and Herrin have done a lot to promote organ and tissue donation in the schools, and their work is appreciated.
Herrin said the most important thing she wants students to learn is the importance of talking to their families about becoming a donor.
“Families need to know what a persons decision would be.” Herrin said. “The other important message is for people to ask questions and find out the answers so they are not afraid or misinformed.”
“Having the title of Miss Idaho Falls is an avenue to get the word out,” Walker said. “I don’t think people would listen to a BYU freshman on such and important topic if I didn’t have that title to back me up.”
Going through the pageant process has helped Walker refine her public speaking skills she said.
“It takes a lot of self confidence and courage to participate in a pageant. What I learned during the pageant has helped me be a better spokesperson for organ donation,” Walker said.
Her grandfather was lucky, she said. Many people waiting for organs never get them.
“The country has a major shortage of registered donors,” Walker said. “Every BYU student should look at their divers license and see if they have made that life saving decision.”