Joshua Rosen, a 26-year-old biology major at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, knows firsthand how important organ donors can be.
At 19, Rosen was diagnosed with a genetic disorder known as Wilson disease, in which the liver cannot metabolize copper. He was waiting for a liver transplant when, six days before his surgery, Rosen suffered liver failure.
“My gift of life came from another teenager who was 15 at the time,” said Rosen. “Because they were able to make this difficult decision, I am here today.”
He said the average wait time is about nine months for someone to receive an organ, but he was fortunate to get a donor within three days. He received an organ from a donor in Montana within two hours of its expiration.
More donors needed
Cheryl Albright, an associate professor at the UH Mānoa School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene, has spent the past five years educating teenagers in Hawai‘i on what it means to become an organ donor. According to research from Albright, only 18 percent of teenagers check the box on their licenses to become donors.
Albright and transplant surgeon Linda Wong discovered that teenagers are not properly educated about “checking the box.” Albright said that teenagers can be wrongfully informed about what it means to be an organ donor from urban legends that can come out of watching TV shows and movies.
“Why would they say yes to something they didn’t know about and were kind of scared of?” Albright said.
In 2008, the School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene developed the IDecide Project. The initiative produced a video in Hawai‘i using Farrington High School students as actors. The video intertwines a game show theme with a reality show. The video asks and answers questions about what it means to be an organ donor, debunking popular myths.
“We have to teach them what it means to be an organ donor,” said Albright, “That it means to save lives.”
A common myth the video talks about is that those who become organ donors will not be given the best medical attention possible because their organs could save more people’s lives. But Rosen is just one real-life example of how, even though he was an organ donor, everything was done to help save his life.
For the past five years, the video has been shown in high schools throughout O‘ahu and the outer islands. Over 500 teenagers have participated in the program.
“We found that twice as many who watch the video became an organ donor on their first driver’s license,” Albright said.
The National Traffic Safety Institute has partnered with the School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene to promote the IDecide Project and create nationwide awareness. The video will be made available on the NTSI website.
“We have the opportunity to take the IDecide message to a larger population of several thousand people,” said Greg Cupper, president of NTSI.
Working with nonprofit Legacy of Life, the next step for the IDecide Project is to continue reaching out to high schools. But Albright also wants to target college students.
“The next time a young adult gets their license is when they turn 21,” said Albright. “So we want to educate those students who didn’t do it on their first license.”
The IDecide Project can be downloaded at http://prevention.manoa.hawaii.edu/idecide/.