Bay District Schools students recently received an important message about organ donation as they graduated from the district’s driver’s education program. Phillip Van Stavern of the local nonprofit agency LifeQuest spoke to the aspiring new drivers about the importance of becoming organ donors when they receive their licenses.
It was a sobering moment for young people excited at the prospect of making the transition into licensed drivers. Yet the message is more urgent than ever, and the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy of life has never been easier. This is a point Van Stavern took the opportunity to drive home during his presentation.
“When people give the gift of organ and tissue donation, they give the gift of life,” Van Stavern told students.
It is a simple and powerful message that Van Stavern understands more than most people. In addition to serving as the public education coordinator for the nonprofit, Van Stavern has been on both sides of the organ and tissue donation system. He was the recipient of a donor kidney after he was diagnosed with renal failure. In 2012, his 14-year-old grandson died tragically in a car accident but was able to save several lives through organ donation.
As medical science has advanced, transplants have become a viable option for many people who once would have had no hope of surviving car accidents or illnesses. This has resulted in long waiting lists for organs across the country, and Florida’s list is longer than most. More than 5,000 Florida residents are currently in need of organs. For many of them, the wait will be too long. According to Van Stavern, nearly 300 Floridians died in 2015 while waiting for the organs they needed.
Most people will never actually meet the specific requirements necessary for organ donation, Van Stavern said, but each person who does has the potential to save eight lives. Those who do not qualify as organ donors may still qualify as tissue and bone donors, giving them the opportunity to save as many as 100 lives.
Jody and Joe Hair also addressed students, telling them about their daughter Madison, a former district student. Madison’s life was cut short in 2012 when she was involved in an auto accident. She qualified as an organ donor and the lives of four recipients were saved as a result. Her father urged students to tell their families about their decision to become organ donors.
If you are not already an organ donor, you do not have to wait until your next renewal to become one. Florida residents can go to donatelifeflorida.org to change donor status.