An Ohio group that seeks to help save and heal lives by encouraging organ, eye and tissue donation hopes to educate more high school students about their ability to be donors. This month it enrolled a former NFL player and Ohio State University standout to help spread that message.
According to Lifeline of Ohio, although one person has the potential to save eight lives and heal more than 50, there aren't enough organ donors to meet growing needs, resulting in the deaths of 20 men, women or children each day.
The nonprofit organization said 115,000 men, women and children in the U.S. are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant.
As part of its push to increase awareness about organ, eye and tissue donation, Lifeline for more than a decade has reached out to high schools throughout Ohio to provide information about being a donor.
"We're in schools in 37 counties educating students," said Jessica Petersen, a media and public relations coordinator with Lifeline of Ohio. "We want them to be able to make an educated decision about organ, eye and tissue donation.
"We have community educators that go to schools, mainly to talk to freshmen and sophomore health classes because you can become a donor when you get your driver's license."
In Ohio, anyone who is at least 15 years and six months old and holds a valid Ohio driver's license, learner's permit or state identification card can authorize the donation of their organs, corneas and tissue by joining the Ohio Donor Registry at their local Bureau of Motor Vehicles office.
They also can fill out and mail a registration form to the BMV or do so online at bmv.ohio.gov.
"It takes less than two minutes to save and heal lives," Petersen said.
In addition to outreach to classrooms, Lifeline of Ohio this year gained Chris "Beanie" Wells as a spokesman.
Wells, a former Ohio State running back who played four seasons in the NFL, is helping spread awareness through a variety of public appearances, including at high schools through Lifeline's "Pass it On" football camps.
He visited Pickerington High School Central on Sept. 4 to watch practice and speak with players on the defending Division I state-champion football team, and he planned to talk to players on Eastmoor Academy's team the following day.
Wells said he suffered a torn Achilles tendon twice, including during an October 2013 tryout with the Baltimore Ravens.
The latter injury ended his playing career, but Wells credited a tissue donor with helping his recovery and allowing him to lead a normal life.
"The doctor told me I wouldn't be able to run again," he said. "Lo and behold, there was a chance with me getting the Achilles tendon tissue.
"This went smoothly. I couldn't return back to play, but I can be functional and have a normal life."
Wells told players about that experience and how his father is awaiting a potential life-saving kidney transplant.
"I know how important it is to have donors out there," he said.
"It's very critical to get the word out to young people about what it means to be an organ, eye and tissue donor."
Lifeline of Ohio officials said they hope their outreach, coupled with state mandates that now require organ, eye and tissue donation be implemented into school curriculum, will provide Ohio's high school students with enough information to make informed decisions about becoming a donor.
Petersen said they also hope students will discuss the issue with parents, siblings, other family members and friends.
At Central, students and staff planned to take the awareness campaign a step further, with a series of activities planned through Friday, Sept. 14.
Central Principal Stacy Tennenbaum said teachers would be given organ, eye and tissue donation wristbands to wear throughout the week, and students and staff would man donor informational tables in the school's Commons area each day during lunch periods.
Students also were expected to provide public service announcements about organ, eye and tissue donation, and how to become a donor, each day during morning announcements at the school.
"Lifeline of Ohio will have a booth at the football game (Sept. 14) with informational pieces," Tennenbaum said.
She said students and staff members decided to take on the campaign "Just simply to bring awareness to the ability to be an organ donor and the importance of it.
"We have guest speakers in health class each year, so, we are expanding the message."