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Donate Life wants local folks to help the cause

by: Cliff Newell, Bob Dexter of Lake Oswego, a volunteer for Donate Life Northwest, stands by a quilt with patches from organ donors and recipients. Dexter was a busy man this week, lining up people for the organization’s new online registry.

When you want something done, it helps to have a guy named Rocky on the job.

That is what Donate Life Northwest is doing with the Lake Oswego Challenge, a new kind of project aiming at greatly boosting awareness of the need to donate organs, eyes and tissues.

If successful, Donate Life Northwest will use Lake Oswego as the model for future campaigns.

'We wanted to reach out to a smaller community and capture the attention of as many individuals as possible,' said Mary Jane Hunt, executive director of Donate Life Northwest.

It is happening in Lake Oswego because of Rocky Johnson, a man with a mission.

'Rocky was looking for a way to get involved,' Hunt said. 'It started with Rocky and Jerry Wheeler (executive director of the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce). We had a lot of discussions and this idea happened.'

'My impetus is to generate more visibility about individuals donating tissues and organs,' Johnson said. 'The need is awfully great.'

The big misunderstanding regarding organ donation involves the 'D' on an Oregon driver's license, which designates the holder as someone desiring to donate organs or tissues.

'The 'D' is not always adequate,' Johnson said. 'It's not the final say. But the new registry is. It allows people to have their wishes met.'

Johnson said he has two big reasons for heading up the Lake Oswego Challenge. One is his son Kevin, who died of cancer seven years ago at age 24. For the seven years prior to his death Kevin had undergone extensive treatment, including chemotherapy. Johnson and his wife had forgotten that Kevin had a 'D' on his driver's license.

'We were wondering how someone with so much chemotherapy could be a donor,' Johnson said. 'But there were his corneas, of course. We hope someone has sight today because of Kevin.

'But it's a sensitive piece when families are faced with such decisions at the time of a death. You often say, 'It's too traumatic for me to deal with.' But with the registry, this is taken care of.'

Reason No. 2: 'It's the right thing to do,' Johnson said. 'Many more people need organs and tissues than there are available.'

'People are very much in favor of organ donation,' Hunt said. 'There are 1.4 million people in the nation with 'D's on their driver's licenses. But what they are not aware of is the new registry and the opportunity to confirm their commitment.

'This will make sense to them. Their wishes will be honored.'

Donate Life Northwest's new registry was launched last April and sign-ups started out very rapidly, with 1,000 people registering every week for the first month.

'But things have slowed since then,' Hunt said. 'That is why it is important to have this concentrated effort.'

From now through Dec. 14, Hunt, Johnson, Wheeler and Donate Life Northwest will be pushing the message hard in Lake Oswego, using the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, Lake Oswego Rotary, Kruse Way Rotary, Lake Oswego Lions Club, the Lake Oswego Review and the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles.

'This is an experiment to see if we can use the power of the press and key organizations to get the word out,' Johnson said.

'There are now 12,000 people in Oregon signed up as organ donors,' Hunt said. 'Our goal is to have 40,000 by April.

'If our efforts are successful, we will go to other communities with the same approach.'

Registry open

An online registry is now available from Donate Life Northwest.

The form is located on the registration's Web site at www.donatelifenw.org . Only a few minutes are needed to fill out the required information.

The registry will assure the wishes of persons desiring to donate organs, eyes and tissues.

Open since April 2007, the registry has signed up 12,000 Oregonians as donors.

Besides compiling a donor's list, the registry will be used to evaluate recruiting efforts by Donate Life Northwest, according to executive director Mary Jane Hunt.