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Working against the clock

Lake Oswego woman strives to educate the public while awaiting place on organ donor list
by: Cliff Newell, 
Susan Hassett looks at a photo of her brother Seth, who died while on a waiting list to receive a heart. Hassett, who is participating in the Lake Oswego Challenge, has the same condition and may need to have a heart transplant.

Susan Hassett is confident and optimistic about her chances of being placed on a donor's list to receive a heart.

'I have to be,' she said.

Yet the Lake Oswego woman faces an extremely serious problem. She suffers from a genetic heart condition that may require her to undergo a heart transplant operation.

The reason Hassett is not on a list now is 'I'm not sick enough yet,' she said. There are simply not enough hearts available.

And even if Hassett is placed on an organ recipient list, she may not receive the heart in time to save her life.

She knows so well what that is like. Her brother Seth suffered from the very same heart condition, and he was on a list. He died at age 51 in 2002 while awaiting a heart transplant.

The statistics are not heartening.

'There are 98,000 people on transplant lists in the United States and only 8,000 donors,' Hassett said. 'Eighteen people die every day while waiting for transplants.'

If Hassett's attitude is chipper about this situation, she is also realistic.

'My son has lost an uncle,' she said. 'He doesn't want to lose mom.'

Still, Hassett is not wasting time on despair or self-pity. Instead she has been working hard on the Lake Oswego Challenge now being held by Donate Life Northwest, speaking to the Lake Oswego Rotary Club and the Lake Oswego Lions Club.

'The need is huge and it gets bigger every day,' Hassett said. 'Just from ignorance people die. It's a way to honor my brother and the way to go is to spread the word, so if I need an organ it will available for me.'

Hassett has had plenty of practice for the LO Challenge. She became aware of the critical need for organ donors when she read an article about a colleague (Hassett is a hospital administrator) who was on a liver transplant list, who was talking to high school students.

Hassett decided that was just the thing for her. Since November of last year she has been going to her alma mater at OHSU to talk to high school kids about the importance of donors of organs, eyes and tissues.

'I'm tell everybody about this. I'm very vocal,' she said. 'I've been in newspapers and on television. It was a family decision for me to do this. I didn't want my son to have any embarrassment about having a 'sick mom.' '

Hassett expects excellent results from her efforts on Donate Life Northwest's registry.

'Most people support organ donation,' she said. 'They just don't know how to take the steps to do it. If people register, there will be no burden of decision making or grieving on their families.

'A D (for donor giver) on a driver's license is not enough. If a family does not know the wishes of a person beforehand, most of the time they de-cide against organ donation. It's a very chaotic time.

'This is a very generous community and I'm certain people will go to the registry.'

Susan Hassett has a lot to live for - a husband, son and career. But just as much as herself, she now wants to help others.

Hassett said, 'If I can even convince one person to decide to become an organ donor, that will make a big difference.

'If one person changes their mind and decides to become a donor, 25 lives could be changed.'

To look at the registry for Donate Life Northwest, go to the Web site www.donatelifenw.org .