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April 22, 2009 > Donate the gift of life

Donate the gift of life

By Meenu Gupta
Photos By Courtesy of Paul Yang

Life came to a screeching halt for Paul Yang, Milpitas resident since 1984, when he was diagnosed with chronic active Hepatitis B resulting in liver dysfunction. A ray of hope sparked amidst darkness when doctors told him he could live a normal life after a successful liver transplant.

Soon a matching donor was found and Yang underwent a successful liver transplant in 1988. "For the past 21 years not only have I lived a normal life but I have lived an extraordinary and wonderful life. It's all because of the appreciation of a renewed life" said Yang.

Yang is a message of hope that organ donation provides to many out there who are facing daunting health challenges. He is a lead volunteer in the San Francisco South Bay Area of the California Transplant Donor Network. Former Milpitas mayor Jose Esteves declared August 20 as Paul Yang Day in Milpitas last year.

Yang is a five-time participant in the National Kidney Foundation's U.S. Transplant Games, an Olympic-like event held for kidney transplant recipients every two years. "I carry my donor's legacy and continue to spread the word for 'Organ and Tissue Donation' to help others who are in need of an organ transplant. Many will die waiting because that precious gift (organ) might never come" he said.

As of December 2008, there are a total of 65 Milpitas residents waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. In California there are 20,000 on the waiting list. Yang's personal story reinforces the life giving gift of organ and tissue donation.

Donate Life California comprises the state's four organ recovery agencies, namely California Transplant Donor Network (CTDN), serving Northern and Central California; Golden State Donor Services, serving the Sacramento area; Lifesharing, serving San Diego and Imperial counties; and OneLegacy, serving the seven counties around Los Angeles.

Visit www.donateLIFEcalifornia.org or the Spanish language website, www.doneVIDAcalifornia.org and register your wish to be an organ and tissue donor. It is a confidential database for those who live or work in California. Tell your family so that they will understand and support your wish to become a donor.

"This is the official Donate Life California Organ and Tissue Registry. This is where people can register their wish to be a donor. The other way for people to register is to check 'yes' next time they renew their driver's license at the DMV" Sandy Andrada said.

Andrada is Community Affairs Coordinator at the Transplant Network, responsible for public education and community outreach in the South Bay Area.

Prior to 2004 when you went to the DMV to renew your license you would be given a donor card with a pink dot sticker on it. If you wanted to be an organ donor you would peel the sticker off and put it on your license. "The problem with that was that only you knew it was on your license and the sticker would often fall off" said Andrada. That's why in 2004 the state registry was created.

In 2006 the DMV joined the effort by including a question about whether one wanted to be a donor. If you check "yes" then the DMV will automatically upload the information into the registry and print a pink dot on your license. So now the pink "donor" dot will be incorporated into each donor's license, rather than being a sticker on the outside.

April is National Donate Life Month, a program designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to raise public awareness of the critical need for organ, tissue, bone marrow and blood donation. There is no cost to the donor or his/her family for donations. There are no limitations on those who can sign up to be donors, even when past disease or certain chronic conditions may be present.

The decision as to whether or not organs or tissue are suitable for transplantation will be made by medical specialists at the time of donation.

"While National Donate Life Month's purpose is to promote blood, bone marrow, and organ/tissue donation, I just want to clarify that our company's mission is only to procure organs and tissues from deceased donors for the purpose of life-saving transplantation into the patients currently on the waiting list," said Andrada.

"The big message I'd like to send out to people is that you can sign up now to donate life while renewing your driver's license at DMV or online. You have the potential to save up to eight lives through organ donation or improve up to 50 lives by tissue donation, so I urge people to come forward as your effort could mean years of life for someone else in future," said Tracy Bryan, board member of Donate Life California.

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