Bill to boost organ donor program

By Jennifer Crowe, Reno Gazette-Journal
Reprint courtesy of Reno Gazette-Journal

Tuesday April 10th, 2001

Reno resident Debbie Pinjuv was lucky.

Two years ago a form of cirrhosis was destroying her liver and doctors gave her only weeks to live. Her sight was failing when doctors called her and sent her to northern California for a liver transplant.

Today Pinjuv is playing tennis and enjoying her life, but others on organ transplant waiting lists haven’t been so lucky.

That’s why an Assembly committee Monday approved a bill aimed at improving Nevada’s organ donor program.  While the Department of Motor Vehicles offers the organ donor option to people seeking driver’s licenses, only about 300,000 of the state’s 1.4 million drivers have agreed to be organ donors.

Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, R-Reno, introduced Assembly Bill 479 to boost that number. “This bill is about a gift, the gift of life,” she told the Assembly Committee on Health and Human Services.

Heidi Smith of Reno also suffers from a deteriorating liver, the result of a blood transfusion in 1980 that infected her with hepatitis C. She’s been on the organ donor waiting list since 1996 and has been at the top of that list since 1998.

“They patch you up until they can find a donor,” Smith said. “I’ve been patched up so many times I feel like a retread tire.”

State numbers aren’t available, but nationally more than 70,000 people are waiting for organ transplants.  More than 12 people on the waiting list die each day, and every 14 minutes a new name is added to the list.

Assembly Bill 497 is intended to educate Nevadans about the process of organ donation and the need for donors. Under the plan, DMV would offer donor information brochures and an enrollment form for the national registry to everyone seeking a driver’s license. The DMV periodically would send the list of
state organ donors to the United Network for Organ Sharing, the national organ transplant list.

Motorists could make a voluntary donation of $1 or more to fund the program. That money would go into an account controlled by the attorney general’s office, which would create and distribute the informational brochures. The program also would accept private contributions, grants and donations.

“With this bill I think we can and will do more,” Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa said.

Advocates say more public education about organ donation is vital. Unfortunately, the first time many families hear of their loved ones wishes is in the emergency room when doctors say the person is dead and they want to harvest organs.

“The wishes of the donor have to be respected,” said the Rev. Frank Murphy, who is working with a northern Nevada interfaith group to educate congregations about organ donation. “If we make this information available to the national registry, there could be more talk within families about organ donation and we can help avert decisions by the family that are contrary to the donor’s wishes.”

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