What if your heart stopped working? Or if another of your vital organs failed? What if you were dying because your organs couldn’t support your body anymore? You would find yourself among the 10,000 people in New York State waiting for an organ donation.
As college students, the chance of this happening to any of us may seem unreal. The possibility of dying when each of us has so much potential and so many goals for the future is absolutely terrifying. How could the universe ever conspire in such a way as to take all that away?
Only 18 percent of adults are registered as organ donors in New York. This is one of the lowest percentages in the country. Including here at RIT with Team LifeSAVES!, the Campaign 4 Life hopes to change these numbers in order to give more people like a chance at life.
A Survivor's Tale
Aisha O’Mally is now working as a records assistant in the Office of Financial Aid here at RIT. However, when she was just 24, she suffered heart failure.
Although initially her doctors thought that with medication her heart would start working on its own, eventually O’Mally had to be placed on the national transplant list. At that point, she was still able to continue on with her daily life. “I was working. I had just got a new job, I just got my own apartment, and I bought a new car so I was just living,” she explained. “It really didn’t affect me just yet. I don’t think I realized how sick I was. When you’re 24 you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s not a big deal. Things will work out.’”
But as time went on, her health continued to deteriorate, and around the end of that October, she was admitted to the hospital indefinitely where she spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and her 25th birthday.
Then good news came a few weeks after Omally’s 25th birthday, when doctors informed her that they might have a match. After a nine-hour surgery, she had a new heart. Her surgeon told her that when he put the heart in, it began beating on its own; he knew it was a perfect match.
By being given another heart, O’Mally received a second chance at life. “Ever since [I received the transplant], I’ve been better,” she said. “I’m working now. I finished my Master’s degree. I volunteer all the time.” Now she is an inspirational speaker who shares her story in order to raise awareness for the importance of organ donation. She also volunteered to be the leader of Team LifeSAVES!.
Fighting the Good Fight
Campaign 4 Life is a competition held by the New York Alliance for Donation where teams from all across New York encourage more people to register as organ donors by raising awareness about the importance of organ donation. The competition started at the beginning of March and all through that month, Team LifeSAVES! made conscious efforts to spread the word and recruit donors both on and off campus.
With a team made up of RIT students, O’Mally knew the importance of reaching out to the college community. “When I am doing my inspirational speaking, I like to talk to college students because they get the picture. It clicks for them a lot quicker than for somebody who’s older,” said O’Mally. “They think, ‘You know, what am I going to do with my organs when I’m dead?’ You aren’t going to do anything with them.”
Team LifeSAVES! held a string of events and met with many members of the campus community in order to spread their message. The group reached out to an RIT communications class, who generously agreed to design posters about the importance of organ donation. The team attended both an RA event and a GLBT meeting and talked to the other attendees about donation. They also set up a booth at the blood drive on campus on Saint Patrick’s Day to raise awareness amongst the students who already are willing to donate a part of themselves to help others.
In addition, Team LifeSAVES! appeared on YNN and the Bob Lonsberry Radio Show in order to reach people in the Rochester community at large.
Looking Back and Moving Forward
This round of the Campaign 4 Life competition ended on March 31, and as by its end, 537 people had registered as organ donors. Although this is a fairly large number of new registered donors, there is still room for more to be added to the registry. An organ donor can save up to eight lives.
O’Mally was not the only team member who received a life saving organ donation; Lauren Aggen, a third year Multidisciplinary Studies student focusing on Deaf Studies, Communication, Psychology and Writing, also received a heart transplant but when she was only 8 days old. The donation came from Austin, Texas just a day before she would be removed from the transplant list for being too sick to receive it. Her heart too began beating on its own the minute she received it. Now she shares a strong passion for organ donation as well. In addition to her volunteer efforts for Team LifeSAVES!, Aggen has delivered many speeches on her story as well as having it published in her book “Austin’s Gift: The Life of a Grateful Organ Recipient.”
These two members of Team Life have very personal reasons to care about organ donation. “I’m very passionate about organ donation. It’s something that I live and breathe every day,” says O’Mally. Through their public speaking and their involvement with Campaign 4 Life, they are trying to get others to feel passionate about it as well and to register more people as organ donors.