BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The transplant center here at ECMC performs up to 80 kidney and pancreas transplants every year. And while that may seem like a lot, consider the waiting list here alone approaches 700 people, and as many as 1,000 people are waiting on organ transplants across WNY.))
“Organ donation, from our perspective, is a public health crisis,” said Sarah Diina, marketing director at Unyts, western New York’s organ procurement organization that serves an eight-county region.
It’s a public crisis affecting more than 123,000 people across the country, and one that leaves 22 people a day to die on a waiting list.
New York state makes up an estimated 10 percent of that waiting list, Diina said.
Until late last year, Gail Kleparek, of Bowmansville, was among that 10 percent. Doctors said she would have likely died on that list, living the rest of her life on nearly daily dialysis.
In November, she posted her story on Facebook. Within days, Cheryl Yurek, who shares Gail’s rare bloodtype (and zest for life), reached out.
Last week, Cheryl — who’s from Lockport — donated her kidney. She’s already out of the hospital. Gail is expected to be released by mid-week.
Dr. Liise Kayler is the division chief of kidney and pancreas transplantation at ECMC. She performed the surgery.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years and it still blows me away,” Kayler said, laughing. “Every time it happens, I am amazed. These people are better people than we are.”
Dr. Kayler said she’s seeing a big increase in situations like Kleparek’s, where a stranger reaches out to change a life thanks to a link created by social media.
“It’s huge,” she said. “A lot of times, if we have a recipient that doesn’t have a donor, we recommend (to) let people on Facebook know, get the word out.
“It is interesting that it is growing,” she added. “After you donate, you get to live with that the rest of your life. You get to live with that feeling that you really helped someone in a really significant way.”
Diina says western New York ranks No. 1 in the state for registered donors. And yet, a wide disparity still exists. She says the solution is simple.
“No. 1, not enough people are registering every year,” Diina said. “That’s something we work on every single day at Unyts.”
Diina tells News 4 that Unyts will be launching a campaign next month that focuses more on the patient in need, the hundreds of people stuck on a waiting list, hoping for that next Cheryl Yurek, and that fate taps them for a better life.
There are many ways to become an organ donor. In addition to signing up at the local DMV, visit Unyts, sign up on the state donor registry or visit ECMC’s kidney and pancreas transplant center.