Yes, I Will Wisconsin
Right now, 1,500 people are waiting for an organ transplant in Wisconsin. Unlike the stock market, the balance in your checkbook or the price of groceries, that number hasn't changed much in the last five years.
Despite Wisconsin's history of being a leader in organ donation, and a record-breaking number of donors, the wait list remains steady. The rising rate of diabetes, chronic kidney disease and other chronic health conditions mean more people are being listed for transplant. A decline in the number of living donors, some say due to economy-related worries, means more nonliving donors are needed.
"We're the third largest transplant program in the nation," said Dr. Tony D'Alessandro, interim chief of the division of transplant at UW Hospital and Clinics. "And our organ procurement organization (OPO) is outstanding, but we knew we needed a better system for donation."
Enter the new Wisconsin Donor Registry, an online database that allows citizens to register their authorization for donation. Hardly a new idea, as 46 other states already have online registries, but one that lacked funding until recently. Donate Life Wisconsin, a collaborative of the state's OPOs, tissue and eye banks and donation advocates, worked with the Department of Health Services to secure a Health Resources and Services Administration grant to fund the creation of the Registry.
"Every hospital, community organization, spiritual group, Facebook user or Tweeter can help because the materials and information are all available on the Yes I Will web site."
- Tony D'Alessandro, MD
The new Registry is confidential, secure and easy to use, and the form takes only minutes to complete. People can make their donation decision now, and unlike the old system, donation professionals have access to those decisions, which saves valuable time.
"Adding your name to the Registry makes a legal record of anatomical gift and authorizes donation," said Dr. Niloo Edwards, Chair of the division of cardiothoracic surgery at UW Hospital and Clinics. "This saves your family from having to make this decision for you at a time when they're grieving."
States that implemented donor registries saw an increase in donation rates. Many contribute the success to the ease and timeliness of using the online system, and the efforts that go into promoting the new system. To that end, Wisconsin donation advocates sought a way to bring attention to the new Registry and their donation message. Hosting the 2010 National Kidney Foundation (NKF) US Transplant Games® provided a unique, and highly-visible opportunity.
The Games, an Olympic-style competition for transplant recipients, will be held in Madison July 30-August 4. Thirteen different sports are included in the competition, which is open to children and adults of all ages who have received a life-saving organ transplant. Special events honoring living and deceased donors are highlights of the Games, as are the opening and closing ceremonies. More than 8,000 people are expected.
"More than three years ago, when we knew the Registry would be ready to open in 2010, we started working on our bid to bring the Transplant Games to Wisconsin," said Trey Schwab, outreach coordinator at UW Health OTD and co-chair of the local organizing committee for the Games. "When we won the bid, we knew we had the perfect vehicle to promote donation and the Registry. But then we had to create a way to get these two unique messages out to the public."
A new campaign, titled "Yes, I Will Wisconsin," ties the Registry and the Games together. A web portal at www.YesIWillWisconsin.com offers four unique opportunities: learning about donation and registering on the Donor Registry, volunteering at the Games, joining the Games 5K Run/Walk for Organ, Tissue and Eye Donation and/or joining Team Wisconsin. The Web site includes downloadable educational and promotional materials.
"We need Wisconsinites to help us get this important message out to the public," said Dr. D'Alessandro. "Every hospital, community organization, spiritual group, Facebook user or Tweeter can help because the materials and information are all available on the Yes I Will Web site."
"While you're there," adds Dr. Edwards, "Make sure you click on the donate button to register yourself. Even if you already have a dot on your license, you need to register."