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Donor Enrollment Day: It’s free to save a life

Donor Enrollment Day: It’s free to save a life

Christine Zammit, right, and her sister Katy Monte pre- and post-kidney transplant.

Photo Courtesy of Christine Zammit

Every 13 hours, one of the approximate 10,000 New Yorkers waiting for an organ transplant will pass away as they wait to find out if a transplant is in their future.

“My sister is a two-time double lung transplant recipient and I actually donated a kidney to her a couple of years ago,” said Christine Zammit, assistant professor and academic coordinator of physician assistant (PA) studies. “For the last couple of years, we’ve been looking for different ways to increase awareness about organ donation and get more people on the registry in New York state, which has an incredibly low percentage of people who are registered organ donors.”

Zammit spearheaded a collaboration with LiveOnNY, a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading awareness and making organ and tissue donations more accessible to families in need, at Hofstra last year in an effort to spread awareness and raise donor enrollment in New York.

“My sister has worked with LiveOnNY before and I have brought LiveOnNY in to talk to the PA students, and after talking to Karen Cummings from LiveOnNY, we decided to host a table here at Hofstra and we started last year. We staffed it with students from the PA program. I was there; I had all different levels of graduate students with us. It was a really fun day. I think we broke down some barriers even if we didn’t necessarily get every person to sign up that day. We did answer a lot of questions and deconstruct some of the myths that were out there, which was really our goal,” Zammit said. “Yes, we wanted to get people to sign up, but also just having that conversation encouraged people to go home and talk to their family and relatives about what they learned about organ donation.”

“I think we broke down some barriers even if we didn’t necessarily get every person to sign up that day. We did answer a lot of questions and deconstruct some of the myths that were out there, which was really our goal,” Zammit said. “Yes, we wanted to get people to sign up, but also just having that conversation encouraged people to go home and talk to their family and relatives about what they learned about organ donation.”

The DMV reports that New York State has one of the lowest donor enrollment rates in the nation, with only 29% of New Yorkers 18 years and older currently enrolled, compared to a national average of 51%. 

“Everyone says New Yorkers are busy and don’t have the time and I think that’s part of the motivation behind this sign-up day. It’s quick and easy, it’s online, the iPhones actually have a health app and in it you can put down that you’re an organ donor. So I think just making it easier is helpful, and I think that we have seen a slight increase in the past couple of years. I think these donor enrollment days have helped with that.”

Zammit hopes to see the initiative spread to other college campuses, and encourages students to at least start a conversation about becoming a donor and the misconceptions often associated with organ donation.

“Eighteen- to 22-year-olds have their own minds. They’re making their own decisions, and maybe they grew up in a family where people didn’t believe in organ donation, and now they’re in a space where they can look at different attitudes and beliefs and kind of make their own decision about how they feel and what they want done should something potentially happen to them,” Zammit said. “I’ve actually reached out to a few other PA programs and connected Cummings with them. In April, we did a little mini competition. April is organ donor awareness month and one of the days is national blue and green day, which are their colors to promote organ donations, so we had a competition with a bunch of PA programs in New York. Our students wore blue and green, took pictures and posted them to social media. I think St. John’s [University] is going to consider doing something this year too, so I’m hoping to get other PA programs involved and maybe that’d be a cause that we’re taking on.”

Zammit said one of the largest misconceptions about organ donation is that should something happen to a person, medical staff will do less to help them because they are an organ donor. For many, the decision can also be tied to their religion and whether it is an acceptable thing to do. 

“We had several students last year who felt like for them it was a religious decision, so we encouraged them to speak with their rabbi or priest or whoever it was in their religious community who could guide them on that decision,” she said.

To become an organ donor, one can sign up at the DMV when they go to receive their license or fill out a form online. Even those who have not registered to become an organ donor can make their wishes on this subject known, should something happen to them.

“If it’s not on your license, they go to your next of kin, which is why this conversation is so important. If you’re not registered but you pass away, they can speak to your next of kin to make that decision, and because you’ve had that conversation you can become an organ donor,” Zammit said.

Zammit and her students will be tabling again on Organ Donor Enrollment Day, Thursday, Oct. 10, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Student Center Atrium. They will have pamphlets on organ donation, giveaways and forms for anyone interested in becoming an organ donor.

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