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A gift of the heart

Greenspring community helps DC area organ donation group

Created date

January 24th, 2012

As children we are taught it is better to give than to receive. Yet anyone involved in an organ donation program would argue that both are equally respectable and immensely important attributes. The lasting impact of donating an organ is beyond measure, says Eck Muessig, who lives at Greenspring, an Erickson Living community in Springfield, Va. Donating an organ is the ultimate gift, a gift of yourself. To the recipient it is the gift of life, a gift of a future.

A seed takes root

As chairman of Greenspring s health service committee, Eck began 2011 looking for a way for the community to make a significant, healthful impact within the greater local area. As a community, we feel it is important to give something back for all that we receive, he says. We wanted to show what our Erickson Living community can do. So Eck reached out to the Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC), a federally designated organ procurement organization for Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, and suburban Maryland. They were excited to have any help we could provide, says Eck. In the D.C. area there is a tremendous need for organs. For instance, there are 1,500 people waiting for kidneys and 170 people waiting on a liver transplant.

The journey begins

Often, seniors think their organs are too old or not worthy of donations, says Eck. Our first goal was to disprove this myth. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Organ condition is more important than one s age when it comes to suitability for donation. To help prove his point, Eck invited John Ogden, the WRTC manager of public affairs and community education, to speak to the Greenspring community. In addition to addressing the great need for organs in both the D.C. area and the nation, Ogden brought with him two speakers who illustrate that age is not important when it comes to organ donation. Bonnie Leahey, the recipient of a kidney from a 70-year-old retired nurse, told of her personal experience after suffering kidney failure in 1999. According to Leahey, her donor was not only healthy enough to donate a kidney but also tissue, bone, and skin to others in need. I feel a very deep responsibility to house this kidney, she says. Ken Ivey also visited Greenspring and shared the story of his daughter, Erin, who tragically passed away at age 14. After an accident on Thanksgiving Day in 2008, Erin showed no sign of brain activity and the family agreed to organ donation. After a family meeting, Ivey said they came to the conclusion that, This is what Erin would want. Because she was so healthy, Erin was able to donate several organs, including her heart. Since that time, the Iveys have met the young boy who received their daughter s gift. I ve always been an advocate for organ donation, but I had never thought about it for any of my children, says Ivey. He is now working on an initiative to assist minors in applying to be organ donors.

Giving the gift of life

Shortly after the speakers visit, Greenspring held its popular annual health fair. The event provides residents with the latest health information available through a variety of displays, demonstrations, and screenings. Eck and the health services committee took this opportunity to provide information about organ donation and supply registration forms. In three hours, 11 people signed up to donate, says Eck. According to WRTC s communication and education specialist Mary Delaney, that is the greatest number of registrations they have ever received in such a short time frame. That makes us very proud. Due to the success of these efforts, Eck will continue to spread the word about organ donation as long as he has listeners. It s such a wonderful gift, and this is such a wonderful community, he says. I think it s pretty neat what we ve been able to accomplish. To find out more about organ donation, contact the Washington Regional Transplant Community at 1-866-Be-A-Donor or