CHEYENNE – Wyoming consistently ranks as one of the states with the highest percentage of people who have registered to be organ donors.
But even with more than 60 percent of the state’s population willing to donate their organs after they die, there is still a significant unmet need for patients waiting for a lifesaving gift.
To help draw attention to the issue, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center has teamed with the nonprofit Donor Alliance to encourage Wyomingites to register to become organ donors during National Donate Life Month.
Currently, about 150 people in Wyoming are on a waiting list for organ transplants, said Ryea’ O’Neill, the Wyoming community relations coordinator for Donor Alliance. Across the country, that number is about 115,000.
“If there was a natural disaster and we lost 150 residents in Wyoming, that would make national news,” O’Neill said. “It’s not just those 150 people – think about how many families, how many neighbors, how many (co-workers) are affected by the health of the individual.
“All of that could be affected in a positive way by a organ donation.”
Cheyenne resident Doug Bare understands the gift an organ transplant can be for an entire family. His infant son received a heart transplant in the early 1980s. The transplant allow his son to live six more years than doctors believed he could without the donation.
“It gave us more time as a family to see him grow into more than just a toddler. And to get to know his brothers and for his brothers to get to know him. They have memories of him because of that donation,” Bare said.
The impact that had on Bare and his family was immeasurable, and eventually led him to donate one of his kidneys to an unidentified recipient in 2016. He said it was something he had thought of doing since his son received a donation. And when he was set to retire from the Air Force, it just made sense to finally give of himself.
“The decision was kind of easy for me, because I felt that I wan- ted to pay it forward and repay somebody who had done it for me,” Bare said. “You think all the time (about the person who donated), and you just wish you could find a way to repay them. And of course you can’t, because even back then, they wouldn’t give you any information. Somewhere you just hope the stars align and they feel comfort sometime in their life because they helped someone with that donation.”
People can easily register to be an organ donor through a driver’s license renewal or through an online portal. But O’Neill and Bare said it was important for someone signing up to have that conversation with their family about wanting to be a donor.
“It’s important for people who put that heart on their licenses to explain to their family why they want to do it,” Bare said. “So when something does happen, and there’s not time for explanation, the family understands what they felt. I think it brings comfort to the family to know why somebody wanted to do it.”
O’Neill said about 75 people could benefit from skin, tissue and retinal donations, and there are eight organs that can also be donated from one donor. But there are multiple factors that go into matching an organ with a patient.
Another issue with donations is the geographical area where a patient lives. In larger cities and metropolitan areas, there is a deficiency in the number of people who’ve signed up to be organ donors. In places like Wyoming and the Midwest, there is a significantly higher number of donors compared to the national average.
Wyoming doesn’t have a organ transplant center, and most cases are handled in Colorado and the Denver metro area. So a donor here can end up helping save the lives of people all across the West.
Given that difficulty of matching organs to patients, and the geographical limitations on transplants, O’Neill said more people being willing to donate organs increases the likelihood of a suitable match being found in time for a transplant to save a patient’s life.
For more information on organ donation or to register as a donor, visit www.donoralliance.org.