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Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release September 24, 1999

Washington, DC -- Today, in an event with families who have donated and received life saving organs, Vice President Gore unveiled a series of new Federal and public-private initiatives to increase the rate of organ donations nationwide.

These initiatives include: the enactment of the Organ Donor Leave Act; a new $13 million grant program to provide funds to community based organizations implementing strategies to increase organ donation; a series of new television ads and corporate partnerships designed to inform the public about the importance and process of organ donation; and new Federal efforts to educate health care providers nationwide about best practices in working with the families of potential donors.

This year, of the 65,000 patients on the national organ transplant waiting list, almost 5,000 will die while waiting for a donated organ. Less than one-third -- about 20,000 -- are likely to receive transplants. Most Americans say they support donation and would carry out their loved one's wishes if they knew them, but only about half of families asked give consent because they don't know what their family member would have wanted.

"The steps we are taking today will not only highlight the need for organ donation," said Vice President Gore, "it will make organ donation more possible, and will help more of America's families to share the gift of health and life."

Specifically, the Vice President announced:

The enactment of the Organ Donor Leave Act. Today, President Clinton will sign the Organ Donor Leave Act, which was sponsored by Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), into law. Because the current seven-day limit on leave for Federal employees for organ donation is insufficient for recovery, this important legislation increases the amount of paid leave available in addition to sick or annual leave to Federal employees who donate organs for transplants. As the country's largest employer, this new law will help the Federal government set the example for the private sector as well as other public organizations. Under this new law, Federal employees serving as organ donors would receive up to 30 days of paid leave in addition to sick or annual leave.

The launch of a $13 million grant program to improve local organ donation efforts. Today, the Vice President released the first $5 million in grant funds to 18 grantees nationwide to improve the donation request process, increase outreach to minority communities, and implement school based and workplace donor education programs designed to educate families about the importance of organ donation. For instance, grantees will use internet based services to support donation; develop easy to access computer centers in public areas where they can record their wishes on organ donation at the same time they renew their drivers? licenses; provide information on organ donation to teenagers in drivers education classes; and utilize parents of organ donors as counselors to other donor families.

New public service announcements to educate families about organ donation. Today, the Vice President released new television public service announcements, developed by the Coalition on Donation, in conjunction with Buena Vista Television and UNOS, to promote organ donation and encourage families to share their decisions on donation. These advertisements, which will be distributed to all major networks and cable stations, are expected to receive $10 million worth of donated air time for the advertisements. They include a toll-free number (1800 355 SHARE) that provides families with information on the importance of organ donation and helps them discuss this difficult subject with their loved ones.

A series of regional conferences to promote best practices in working with the families of potential donors. The Vice President announced that, beginning in early December, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will hold four regional conferences to bring together health care providers and transplant professionals from hospitals and organ procurement organizations to share successful strategies for communicating with potential donor families. A new resource guide developed by HHS, Roles and Training for the Donation Process, will be used to educate conference attendees. This guide, developed in cooperation with hospitals and transplant professionals, will also be distributed to every hospital participating in the Medicare program by the end of the year.


                       TO INCREASING ORGAN DONATION.



Sarah Lee and Mark Beck, Charlotte, NC
The Becks donated their three-year-old daughter Anna's heart valves, corneas, liver, and kidneys after she died of a brain aneurysm in February 1998. Sarah said that the decision to donate Anna's organs was not a difficult one -- that although the day her daughter died was the worst one of her life, there was never any question about what they would do. She and her husband Mark have both pledged to donate their organs, and she speaks with pride of the people Anna helped. Sarah is extremely thankful for the support and guidance her local transplant organization provided her when they made their decision. Sarah and Mark have two young children.

Tim Thompson, Louisiville, KY
Tim is a 42 year old telecommunications expert for the United Postal Service. He lost his wife Harriet, aged 32, to a brain aneurysm three years ago. Because of the recent death of a close relative, Tim and his wife had discussed organ donation and he knew that she wanted to be a donor. Because he was overwhelmed trying to cope with the reality of his wife's sudden death and the impact it would have on their two children, he doesn't think that he would have remembered that Harriet wanted to be an organ donor at the time. Even if he had remembered, Tim thinks that he would have had an extremely difficult time bringing it up with hospital staff. When a nurse asked him about the possibility of donation, he remembers feeling "pure relief" at the idea that someone was there to help him carry out his wife's wishes.

Harriet's organs went to seven different people, all of whom are doing well. Tim, who now serves on the Kentucky Organ Donation Affiliates' Board of Directors, is working with UPS to develop a workplace donation education initiative. His project has been selected as one of the first HHS Model Programs to Increase Organ Donation, and will receive almost $140,000 of the $5 million in grant funds that the Vice President is releasing today.

Jose Torres, Camden NJ
Joe received his donated liver in July of 1997. A few months before that, he developed debilitating pains in his abdomen. He thought that it was food poisoning, and his wife Maria rushed him to the hospital -- where he ended up staying for almost a month. Jose was diagnosed with a rare liver disease, and he and his family learned that without a transplant, he had less than a year to live. Those months were stressful ones for the family -- Jose was forced to leave his job as a homicide detective and stay at home. Maria was forced to work extra hours and worried about the family's financial future. Their six children all spent more time at home to try and help as much as they could instead of playing sports after school and taking up extracurricular activities. Jose calls his transplant a "gift from God" -- he and his family now appreciate every day they have together. He speaks whenever he can about the importance of organ donation.

Oscar Robertson
Donated a kidney to his daughter, who is doing well today. They have both become active supporters of organ donation. He is a member of National Kidney Foundation.

Known as the Big O, Robertson is considered one of the greatest guards in basketball history. He was co-captain of the United States basketball team that won the gold medal in the 1960 Olympic Games. He set basketball records playing for the Cincinnati Royals and the Milwaukee Bucks. Robertson retired in 1974 and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979.