By Evan Johnson
RUTLAND — At a small event in Rutland City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 21, members of Donate Life Vermont demonstrated how a small decision could have life saving consequences for others.
In November of 2011, Penny and Jeff Sirjane received news that their 18-year-old daughter Marley had died in a car accident in Bradford, Vt. Because she was an organ donor, she donated bone marrow, corneas, tissue and heart valves to 59 patients.
“We are very proud and honored that Marley lives on out there amongst the rest of us, enhancing the lives of people every day,” Penny Sirjane said. “We love her dearly, we miss her every day, but we’re very proud of her and the contributions that she’s made.”
According to Matt Boger of Donate Life Vermont, 96 percent of Vermonters who register to be an organ donor do so at the Department of Motor Vehicles when the receive or renew their licenses.
“We are the only public health question presented on a state document, not only in Vermont, but in all 50 states.” he said.
Robert Ide, commissioner of the Vermont DMV, said more than 55 percent of Vermont residents have chosen to be an organ donor.
Residents can register as a donor at any age. Last year, one quarter of all transplants nationally came from donors over the age 55. While becoming a donor is an easy decision, only two percent of deaths occur in a manner where tissues and organs can be donated. Last year, only 285 people in New England donated organs or tissues.
“I think there’s a perception that this happens on a daily level,” Boger said. “It does not.”
There are currently over 117,500 individuals on the national wait list, waiting on what Boger described as “that life saving call.”
Boger also clarified that a person can only be considered for organ and tissue donation once deceased.
Rutland Sen. Peg Flory, who also spoke at the event, said her late husband, Joseph, was one of the first people to survive a transplant using a heart valve from a pig. Prior to his passing, she and her husband had discussed organ donation.
“He made me promise, despite the fact that we were both white-haired and not young, that when he went, no matter what organs they wanted, tissue, etcetera, I would donate because at that point there was no way for him to tell the world he wanted to do it.”
At the event, Rutland Mayor David Allaire read a proclamation declaring the week as “Donate Life Week” in Rutland.
Frank Hewitt, who received a heart transplant from a donor, said the life-saving measure has given him a new lease on life.
“I’m eternally grateful for the second chance and I intend to make the most of it.” he said.