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October 11, 2012

Saving lives one organ at a time

MICHELLE MILLER
STAFF WRITER

— New York state has one of the lowest rates of registered organ donors in the United States.

According to campaign4life.org, only 18 percent of the state’s residents are enrolled. The goal of one local resident is to see that number become higher. Carrie Carney of Cooperstown is participating in Campaign 4 Life as a team leader for the second time. Her team, B.M.W., placed second in the competition about six months ago — just six donor cards away from taking home the grand prize.

The Campaign 4 Life is a team competition among groups of students, co-workers, neighbors, clubs and community groups in New York. The challenge will be active this month as teams compete to register friends, family, neighbors and co-workers in the state’s organ donor registry. A team leader who leads the team with the highest number of registrations will be awarded $1,000. The team that is second in place will receive $500 and third place teams receive $250.

Carney gave her winnings from the last competition to Fly Creek resident and firefighter Wolfgang Merk. His life was saved thanks to the donation of a liver.

“His medical bills were piling up and it was the least I could do,” Carney said.

According to Carney, not everyone is as lucky as Merk. There are about 100,000 people on the transplant waiting list and not everyone gets a donation in time, she said.

For example, she said Bonnie Kaido of Cooperstown lost her life to liver disease on New Year’s Eve at the age of 60 in 2011. Kaido was a long-time member of the Cooperstown Volunteer Fire Department Emergency Squad and served in every capacity and office including five years as squad captain.

She was a mentor to many — including Carney, who served as a Cooperstown emergency medical technician for 10 years.

Carney’s connection with Merk (both were part of the Cooperstown crew that went to help out at ground zero after 9/11) and Kaido, along with a successful kidney transplant experience of her partner’s younger brother, Matt, is what inspired her to take action and raise awareness.

“That is what this campaign is about to me, raising awareness, not winning a competition. Placing was just an extra bonus,” she said.

Would Carney be opposed to placing again?

She said, “of course not.”

However, she said she will not be as aggressive as the first time because of time and already having done it. She said she realizes she is targeting a small area and has pretty much saturated it.

“I just want to get the information out there, and if I can get to people that I did not before, that will be great,” she said.

Carney said when she first decided to become a team leader she planned to take on the challenge herself. She said others became eager to join in her efforts once they learned what she was doing.  

According to Carney, there are two ways that teams can encourage people to become donors — to complete a card or go online to register. She said she will be spreading the word on Facebook, emails to co-workers and mostly word-of-mouth.

Carney said she learned a lot from the first campaign. For example, she said a lot of people believe they were already donors because they checked off a box on their driver’s license. That doe not always guarantee anything because family members can override that, she explained. She said registration forms are given out now when people go to renew their licenses.  

According to Carney, those who register as an organ donor will get a heart on their license. She said she learned there were a number of people already registered when out advocating.

Another question that people were concerned about, Caney said, was if one can still become donors if they planned to will their body to science. The answer is yes, she said.

“I am more than happy to spread the word. I feel it is really important. You don’t need them (organs) once you are dead, so you may as well let someone else benefit from them, she said.

“I tell people, you won’t feel a thing,” she added. “One donor can save up to eight lives. “

Carney said participating in Campaign 4 Life is her way of making a difference.

Merk said he will be forever grateful to his donor, who remains anonymous, and that he and his wife encourage people to become organ and tissue donors.

“The quicker we get the word out, the better off more people will be, he said.

People can register to donate at campaign4life.org/.