Originally created 02/28/01

Campaign puts focus on organ donation



SAVANNAH - Savannahian Mary Brown used to think she was an organ donor. After all, she signed up as one when she renewed her driver's license, and even got a discount for doing so.

But then her friend Darrell Potts needed a new liver - and received one last week - and Brown got an education about all aspects of organ donation.

"Before I got involved, I thought, `It's on my driver's license - that's all I needed to do,"' Ms. Brown said.

But what she's since learned to do is talk to her family about her wishes.

And that's the point of about 20 billboards around Savannah that urge donors to talk about their decision. The Georgia Coalition on Donation put up the billboards, which will be in place until May.

The final permission to donate a person's organs comes from the family, said Jeff Al-Mashat, vice chairman of the coalition. So the driver's license is just the beginning of the process, a way to start the discussion.

"The main reason is to get people talking," Mr. Al-Mashat said.

About 3.5 million Georgian drivers have opted for donor status on their licenses.

The number of Georgians awaiting organ transplants recently topped 1,000 for the first time, Mr. Al-Mashat said, up from a previous plateau of 700-900.

Ann Smith became well versed in organ transplants when someone close to her needed one. In her case, it was her adult son Jay, who needed a kidney and received one in 1996.

"Since we were totally dependent on a cadaver, we became fast aware," Ms. Smith said. "People don't think they can be donors; they think they're too old. But my son's donor was 52 or 53."

Ms. Smith said she's seen miracles happen with organ donations. But when her son was awaiting his transplant, she said, it was hard to find the right words to pray.

"I couldn't pray for somebody's death. ... I hoped that a person would be good and wise enough to let someone live. I prayed, `Dear Lord, let someone be wise."'

"Before I got involved, I thought, `It's on my driver's license - that's all I needed to do."'- Mary Brown, a Savannah resident, on learning that the family has to give final permission for organ donations