I’m a Volunteer!

Several months ago, I got a letter from the Donor Network of Arizona (DNA) inviting me to become a volunteer with them. I think the idea was that they had supported me through two years of my grief journey and now it was time to pay them back – or to pay it forward, as the case may be.

I decided that volunteering with/for them would be a good way to remember Toni, so I sent in my volunteer application and was told to attend the training session that took place last Thursday, which I did.

The “training,” if you want to call it that, was more like an orientation. (Actual hands-on training will occur OJT-style at events.) There were five people there – the trainer, two transplant recipients, one potential recipient, and me. Apparently this was mildly unusual; I guess that a lot of volunteers don’t have the personal connections to organ donation that we all had. This isn’t a bad thing, mind you – volunteers don’t have to have personal experience with the process. It was just unusual that all of us *were* already involved in one way or another.

We each received the standard packet of handouts, and the trainer went through them with us. Although I took some notes, the trainer mostly just read what was already on the handouts. Here are some of the things I learned:

  1. Driver’s licenses really *aren’t* reliable. For example, my license doesn’t have any indication on it at all that I’m a donor, although it was issued to me in 2011 and I registered as a donor in 2010. Since June of 2014, though, AZ has been including a heart symbol and the word “DONOR” on licenses if you are one.
  2. Even if you have registered as a donor, and you have filled out the legal paperwork, DNA won’t recover organs or tissues if the next-of-kin object. They *could*, but they won’t – it has to do with not making a terrible time worse for the survivors. For this reason, it’s super-important for donors to discuss their decisions with family and friends and make sure that everybody is aware of their desires.
  3. If you’re registered as a donor in Arizona, and you die somewhere else, the other location might not (in fact, probably won’t) be able to find out that you’re a donor. Your donor registration doesn’t carry from state to state. While DNA is part of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there isn’t one national donor list – there are statewide and/or regional lists. There *is* a nationwide transplant list, but no nationwide donor list. So if you spend a significant amount of time in more than one location (at a vacation home in another state, for example), you should register as a donor in all of them. And if you move, of course, you should register in your new location. [As a personal note, I specifically asked about my planned yearlong trip through all 50 states. The answer was that I should register as a donor in all 50 states.]
  4. A single person can save the lives of up to 8 others: heart, left lung, right lung, left kidney, right kidney, liver, pancreas, and small intestine. The same donor can also *enhance* the lives of as many as 50 or more others through tissue transplants like corneas, skin, blood vessels, bone, and so on.
  5. DNA does not handle live donations. An individual can donate one kidney, a part of the liver, or a part of a lung, as well as bone marrow. These donations are all handled through groups other than DNA (for example, bone marrow transplants are coordinated through the National Marrow Donor Program.)
  6. Even people who you wouldn’t think could donate, can. For example, if a recipient’s transplanted organs are still in good shape at the recipient’s death, they could potentially be recovered and re-transplanted. Under some circumstances, cancer survivors can donate. People with chronic conditions (such as diabetes – although I don’t know if there’s a distinction here between Type 1 and Type 2) can sometimes donate. Addicts can be donors.
  7. The minimum age to register yourself is 15 years 6 months (when you can get a learner’s driving permit). There is no maximum age.
  8. And, of course, there are the “politically-correct” words and phrases to use. For example, organs are recovered, not harvested. A donor is on ventilator support or mechanical support, not “life support” (this actually makes sense, because organ recovery cannot proceed until a declaration of brain death has been made, so while the ventilator and other machinery can keep the organs functioning, they are not keeping the donor “alive” in any meaningful sense of the word). And so on.

So there you have it. I’m an official (?) volunteer with DNA – complete with the latest t-shirt – and I’m waiting for an email listing opportunities to “strut my stuff.” The t-shirt’s actually kind of cool:



3 Comments on “I’m a Volunteer!

  1. Very cool. Sounds like a great thing to do (volunteering, I mean, but also organ donation, although I was specifically commenting on the volunteer work).

    Now I’m sad… I didn’t realize that they may, or probably will not, take my organs because I’m Diabetic. I registered after Toni died (it might have been after Jeremy died, I don’t remember at this point) to be able to help someone in need and now I most likely won’t be able to? I mean, I understand probably not being able to donate kidneys and maybe heart, but liver and lungs and intestines should still be good… maybe… lol. Obviously everyone is different. *has a sad*

  2. Ali, I’m sure you can find out more definite information about your specific situation if you contact DonateLifeAZ. As I mentioned, all the trainer said was “diabetic.” She didn’t give any more than that.

  3. Pingback: My Story (and I’m sticking to it) | The Peripatetic Traveler

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