MISSION -- She likes to play on her swingset and can watch iCarly cartoons all day. No one would ever imagine seven-year-old Shantel Garza is anything more than your typical little girl. However, she has been given the Gift of Life twice -- once upon birth, and again when she received a liver transplant.
"Shortly after she was born, doctors told us she would not be with us for more than two years without a liver transplant," says Shantel's mother, Alicia Garza. "I was heartbroken."
Fortunately, Shantel did not have to wait too long. Six months after being on the organ donor list, she successfully received a liver transplant. Others, however, are not so lucky. There are a lot more potential organ recipients than there are organ donors.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, the number of people awaiting transplants nationwide has surpassed 110,541. In South and Central Texas there are a total of 4,511 patients waiting for a life- savings organ transplant of which 3,993 need a kidney transplant. “In 2010, 19 families in the Rio Grande Valley consented to organ donation. Organ shortages make it difficult for everyone on the waiting list to receive an organ,” says Tricia Barrera, Public Relations Coordinator for the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance.
The greatest impediment to organ donation is refusal of family consent. "Consent has actually decreased here in the Valley. Perhaps it's our culture. Most people are not educated enough on the facts of organ donation and refuse to 'disturb' the remains of their loved ones," says Aissa Garza, Hospital/Donor Services Coordinator for the local chapter of the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance (TOSA).
Even though a person may be on the National Organ Donor Registry List, consent must still be obtained by the family. "It is very important that donors communicate with their families so that their wishes may be respected after death," added Garza.
Organs are not the only life-saving items on demand. One hundred people can benefit from one tissue and eye donation. Bonnye Garza, Tissue Services Site Supervisor for the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center quotes, "We aim to educate people with these facts and hopefully recruit them into becoming registered donors."
In an effort to increase awareness about organ donation, TOSA and the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center are working closely with hospitals such as Mission Regional Medical Center (MRMC). A Donor Drive was held at the hospital’s Main Lobby during most of the day. A Symbolic Flag-Raising Ceremony was held, signifying the number of people awaiting transplants nationwide.
“We appreciate the tremendous support of Mission Regional Medical Center. Their administrative leaders have been key supporters of our efforts and that is why we awarded their organization the TOSA Humanitarian Award,” said Yolanda Montemayor, TOSA Regional Manager.
The award, which symbolizes a tear drop, represents both the tears of sadness shed by the donor family over the loss of a loved one, and the tears of gratitude, thankfulness, appreciation, and recognition from the recipients who now count the number of days they have left, all because a donor family valued life enough to share it with others in need.
Philip Fracica, MD, Chief Medical Officer at MRMC, drew on the deeper meaning of organ donation. “I don’t know if it was intentional, but I find symbolism in the fact that Donor Awareness Month coincides with the Easter Season. Organ donation is a way of turning suffering and death into life and hope and salvation. It is a way of saying no to death and despair. Even when all is lost, organ donors can turn the tables on death through an act of kindness and unselfish concern for others.”
"I challenge everyone to become an organ donor," said Alicia Garza, as she hugged precocious Shantel close to her. “Why would you not save a life and bring so much joy to another family? We are so blessed with Shantel. I will always share my story and remind people of how everyone can be a hero.”
Javier Iruegas, Chief Executive Officer at MRMC offered a unique perspective on how lucky many of us are to have good health. “How many of you woke up this morning feeling like a millionaire? Well, today you can ‘donate’ like one, and not worry about draining your bank account. Today you can donate something even more valuable than money; you can donate ‘life’. It doesn’t cost you anything and it doesn’t ‘hurt’, but it saves lives and brings joy to many families.” Iruegas added, ”I encourage everyone to register to be an Organ Donor and give the gift of life.”