Number of Michigan organ donors skyrockets

October 2, 2011
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LANSING — The number of Michigan organ donors has skyrocketed 17 percent over last year. The reason: They were asked.

As of Sept. 22, more than 28,000 Michigan citizens have registered to be organ donors, said Tim Makinen, director of corporate communications at Gift of Life Michigan, an Ann Arbor-based organ donation advocacy group.

Registrants are expected to be up about 25 percent from the same month last year, marking the fifth straight month numbers have risen by more than 20 percent from the previous year, said Fred Woodhams, communications representative for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

The increase is due primarily to Johnson’s efforts, Woodhams said. In April, she decided to have clerks at Secretary of State offices directly ask customers to join the registry.

The strategy took registration up a notch, said Makinen.

“People are starting to realize that you can’t just sign the back of the card anymore,” Makinen said. The format of Michigan licenses has changed, and to be a donor, a person must register with the Secretary of State while at the government office or online.

Asking customers face-to-face makes the decision easier, said Rick Wash, assistant professor at Michigan State University in the Department of Telecommunications, Information Studies and Media.

Asking customers brings attention to things that may not have crossed their minds, Wash said. It prevents procrastination in a powerful way.

“Asking tells them now is the time,” he said.

Johnson heard about the critical need for organs in Michigan and felt as though it was the appropriate step to take, Woodhams said.

“It wouldn’t inconvenience the customer and it could save lives,” he said.

It’s a fairly easy question to ask, and clerks only ask it if time is permitting, Woodhams said. The staff was briefed, but there was no special training.

Multiple states already perform similar procedures, he said.

“Our goal is to get to the national average,” Makinen said. The national registration average is 42 percent of all adults. In Michigan, it’s only 30 percent.

Makinen expects Michigan to reach the national average by 2014.

Gift of Life Michigan joined the Michigan Eye Bank, the Donate Life Coalition of Michigan and the Michigan Donor Family Council last week at the Capitol to celebrate organ donation, said Betsy Miner-Swartz, communications specialist at Gift of Life. Donor family members, transplant recipients and patients waiting for transplants participated in the event.

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