Making a Difference

The organ transplant world can be fraught with seemingly insurmountable challenges, wide-ranging emotions, and, all too often, fear.
Think about it. You’re sick, and your only avenue to survival is a healthy organ from either a living or deceased donor. Or your friend or loved one is ill, and you have to watch what no one should ever have to watch. Waiting seems interminable. Days blend together. So much is beyond your control. Consternation is palpable. The journey becomes the ultimate test of resolve, toughness, and, for some, faith.
 
How does one mitigate the challenges, quell the raw emotions, and alleviate the fear? That’s no small task, but that’s the very question a group of 11 Collegiate 8th graders asked themselves this week as they participated in Envision Richmond, a capstone program, now in its sixth year, which focuses on civic engagement and enhances leadership, collaboration, and problem-solving skills through design thinking.
 
Tuesday, they made their site visits to the Hume-Lee Transplant Center at VCU Health, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), and Doorways.
 
For the ensuing two-and-a-half days, they analyzed and interpreted data and information they collected, identified the major problems facing transplant patients and survivors, and brainstormed possible solutions. Friday morning in the Craigie Board Room, they presented their ideas to their classmates and professionals in the field.
 
Their plan was two-fold.
 
The first, called “Save a Life,” involved heightening awareness of the dire need for donor organs. Their concept involved developing a mandatory four-hour course spread over several sessions to present facts and figures about donation to teenagers and educate them about the importance of donor registration.
 
“We want to bring awareness,” said Clare Dubose. “We want to make sure there’re enough organs to save lives. So many innocent people die because donor organs aren’t available. After this (project), going to the hospital, and hearing (the professionals), it made me understand that being an organ donor is really important.”
 
According to UNOS, 114, 729 people on currently on the national transplant list. Surgeons have performed 27,281 transplants this year. Each day, 95 people receive transplants, but 22 die before a compatible organ becomes available.
 
“When people say that one person can make a difference, it sounds almost like a cliché,” said Carrington Miller, “but it’s really true. An organ donor can save at least one person’s life. That’s pretty great.”
 
The second plan, “Organ Plant,” involved support for patients and, by extension, caregivers. The program would include a television station and website where patients and their families could view informational videos and slide shows and hear stories of hope from transplant survivors.
 
The idea would be to relieve anxiety and provide comfort and a glimpse into the future. Volunteers would also present a sunflower, the national symbol of organ donation, to patients and their caregivers.
 
The premise of both projects was demystification of organ donation and transplant surgery. Just as with the 12 other Envision Richmond groups, the basic question was, “How can we help?”
 
Their ideas centered on reaching out selflessly to those in need. They addressed weighty issues and serious challenges. They stepped far outside “the bubble.” They enlightened themselves, and by so doing, they hope to enlighten others.
 
“They captured the empathy well,” said Dan Carrigan, public relations and marketing manager for the Hume-Lee Transplant Center. “It’s one thing to understand concepts which they clearly grasp. It’s another to identify real-world problems and then make a plan. They were very engaged. They asked good questions. To understand that there’s a community that has a voice and that we need to support them is really next-level thinking. It was very impressive.”
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