Rubin: Don’t be selfish with your pancreas, be a donor!

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Most of us, it turns out, are willing to part with our internal organs. We just need to be asked.

Across five years, says Betsy Miner-Swartz of Gift of Life Michigan, the percentage of adults who’ve agreed to provide a post-mortem lung or liver has doubled.

A figure that once wallowed at a frustrating 27 percent has become an encouraging 55 percent. We’ve gone from barely a quarter of the state’s adults on the organ donor list to more than half.

“We’re making tremendous inroads,” Miner-Swartz says, and the biggest reason is a simple question the clerks started asking at Secretary of State branches:

“Would you like to be an organ donor?”

Um, sure. Why not?

Why not help someone see or breathe or improve on whatever it is a pancreas does? Why not show a little love and give your heart?

If you’re at the organ donation stage of life, you’re not actually at a stage of life anymore. You’ve reached the finish line that we’re all chugging toward, a day at a time.

Somewhere behind you, though, is some poor mope trying to trot a few more laps. His heart is failing or her kidneys are shot or someone’s kid is online trying to figure out the answer to that pancreas question.

Would you like to be an organ donor? Call Gift of Life at (800) 482-4881, visit, or drop by any Secretary of State depot.

When Ruth Johnson took office in 2011, says Gisgie Davila Gendreau of the Secretary of State’s office in Lansing, organ donation advocates asked her to lend a hand so that others could get kidneys.

“She said okay,” says Davila Gendreau, but with some fine print.

“I need some ideas,” Johnson said, “of what we can do that’s free or low cost.”

It doesn’t get much cheaper, or as it turns out more effective, than asking an eight-word question.

Would you like to be an organ donor?

Need never stops

The trend isn’t quite as good for director Remonia Chapman and Gift of Life MOTTEP – but it’s getting better.

MOTTEP stands for Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program. Minorities lag behind when it comes to signing up – Chapman estimates the number at 25 percent – which is unfortunate on several levels, starting with the fact that matches for some organs are more likely to be found within a race.

“Our challenge is always that the need rate is so great,” Chapman says. “The need rate and signup rate have not leveled off.”

Gift of Life MOTTEP will hold its annual Lifesavers Leadership Breakfast at 8 a.m. Thursday at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Detroit Branch Conference Center, conveniently located at 1600 East Warren. It’s free, but you have to RSVP at

I’ll be receiving the Angelo B. Henderson - Your Voice Award, named for the late journalist and radio host. I’m doubly appreciative, because 1) I liked Angelo a lot, and 2) as you can probably tell, I feel strongly about donating organs.

Trust me, you won’t miss ‘em.

Help after you’re gone

In truth, even if you’re on the list, your organs probably aren’t going anywhere.

For them to be usable, you have to die in a hospital, generally from a brain injury. While 74 Michigan donors last year had cardiac issues, 211 succumbed to brain trauma.

That’s 285 total donors in a state with, alas, 3,569 people on the current waiting list. Kidneys are the hottest item – 2,881 patients need one – followed by livers (373), hearts (117) and lungs (85).

“The waiting list never drops,” Miner-Swartz says. “We don’t ever have a month where we can celebrate.”

Lest you worry that ghoulish physicians will be circling over your hospital bed like buzzards, by the way, rooting against you, the doctors whose sworn duty is to save your life are different from the transplant teams trying to save as many as seven others thanks to your generosity.


Would you like to be an organ donor?

The answer is easy if you know somebody who has received an aftermarket part, or if you love somebody who is waiting for one.

Realistically, it should be easy for all of us.