State Health and DMV Commissioners, "Survivor" Star Join Forces on Behalf of Organ Donation

Commissioner Novello: Organ Donors are the Ultimate "Survivors" Health Department Unveils Bilingual Online Organ Donor Registry

Albany, April 19, 2001 – State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. today urged New Yorkers to observe National Organ Donor Awareness Week and become ultimate "Survivors" by joining New York State's Organ and Tissue Donor Registry, which now offers bilingual online enrollment. In addition, Governor George E. Pataki today proclaimed it "Organ Donor Awareness Week" in New York State.

Dr. Novello unveiled a Spanish language version of the online enrollment form today at a New York City press conference. Joining her were State Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Raymond P. Martinez and neurosurgeon Dr. Sean Kenniff, a former contestant on the popular CBS "Survivor" series who currently is a medical correspondent for the television show, "Extra!" Both enrolled in the Registry by signing up online.

"Organ and tissue donors are the ultimate because, even after death, they live on through transplant recipients because their unselfish gift allows others to survive," said Dr. Novello, who herself enrolled in the Registry at its inception last year. "A single donor not only saves but can dramatically improve the lives of many people. We are taking this opportunity to urge everyone who cares about people and is willing to donate organs or tissue to sign the State's Organ and Tissue Donor Registry, and then to make certain that their wishes are known and followed."

The Registry was established by Governor Pataki in June 2000 to record an individual wishes. Enrollment in the New York State Organ and Tissue Donor Registry solves that problem, not only because it helps you enroll, but allows your loved ones to know your intent, so that your wish can become a reality.

Nationally, more than 75,000 people are on organ transplant waiting lists, almost 7,600 of whom are residents of New York State. Tens of thousands more are awaiting tissue transplants. In 1999, 21,693 organ transplants were completed nationwide, thanks to gifts from 10,576 donors. In spite of these developments, the number of deaths among patients on the waiting list has tripled during the past decade.

The problem is real and particularly acute among minorities. While minorities represent only about 25 percent of the donor pool, nearly half of the people on the national waiting list for organs are of minority origin. Each day, 14 Americans die while waiting for an organ or tissue transplant. Half of these individuals are minorities. Furthermore, although there is a high incidence in the minority population of diseases that result in the need for donor organs, some minorities, among them, Latinos, are disproportionately less likely to receive an organ or tissue transplant. The reasons are multiple, encompassing socioeconomic factors including poverty, lack of insurance, language barriers and an overall lack of awareness regarding donations, all of which combine to limit Latinos' access to lifesaving transplants.

"It is our hope that online enrollment, particularly bilingual enrollment, will help increase the number of people who register to become organ donors and I wish to thank both Commissioner Martinez and Dr. Kenniff for their strong support of this vital effort," Dr. Novello said. "The State Department of Motor Vehicles has been a crucial partner in registering New Yorkers as potential donors and Dr. Kenniff is contributing his time and name recognition to help build awareness of the tremendous need. Not all of us can compete on "Survivor" like Dr. Kenniff, but if we care enough to join the Organ and Tissue Donor Registry we can help others "survive" and give lasting meaning to our own – and someone else's – life."

State Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Raymond Martinez said, "By providing information on organ and tissue donation and acting as a conduit to the Registry, DMV is assisting in this lifesaving program and educating New Yorkers about the importance of becoming a donor. New Yorkers have always been the first to care about others and give of themselves and this effort is designed to provide valuable information to families facing a decision to donate."

Dr. Sean Kenniff said, "As a physician I fully understand the importance of organ and tissue donation. I have had to speak with many families of terminally ill patients of mine about the possibilities that existed for their loved ones to donate organs. It is a very delicate issue, but events like this one today help to increase awareness and ultimately save lives."

Development of New York's Organ and Tissue Donor Registry was among the recommendations of the New York State Task Force to Increase Organ and Tissue Donation. The group is working under the auspices of New York State Transplant Council to overcome barriers to organ and tissue donation.

The Registry is a unique collaboration between the State Departments of Health (DOH) and Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the transplant community. The vast majority of New Yorkers enroll by checking a box on their driver license or non–driver identification card application or renewal form. This creates a confidential computerized listing that is transferred electronically to a secure database maintained by the Health Department. Currently, New York State's Registry has 70,711 enrollees, including 166 online enrollments, 543 mail or toll–free telephone enrollments and 423 enrollments through local organ procurement organizations. The remaining enrollments occurred through DMV sign–up activities.

New Yorkers may also enroll in the State Organ and Tissue Donor Registry by sending a Uniform Donor registry enrollment form to the State Health Department or by enrolling online at the DOH website (www.health.state.ny.us). After joining the Registry, individuals should also sign the back of their drivers identification card, to reinforce their wishes to become donors.

4/19/01–37 OPA