CITYWIDE — Six years ago, former Santa Monica resident Randi Swersky received a phone call that changed her life.

Her kidney and liver were both failing, and she’d been struck by quadruple pneumonia. Doctors at Cedars Sinai stabilized her enough to send her home, connected to a dialysis bag.

At 10 p.m. on Feb. 1, 2006, her phone rang.

“The nurse called to tell me that they had a kidney and a liver and asked, ‘Do you want it?’” Swersky recalled. It was an easy question to answer.

Wednesday, Donate Life California in partnership with the California Department of Motor Vehicles gathered at the DMV in Santa Monica to celebrate the 100 million Americans nationwide to register as an organ, eye and tissue donors.

That accounts for approximately 40 percent of the national population. California, with 8.7 million residents enrolled in the registry, has the most donors of any state.

Each donor registered represents a possibility that someone like Swersky might get the opportunity to lead healthy, normal lives that would never have been available to them before.

“Today we celebrate a major milestone with 100 million registered donors,” said Charlene Zettel, the new chief executive officer of Donate Life California.

Organizations like Donate Life began collecting data about registered organ donors in October 2006. At that point, there were 65 million Americans registered, and many states that lacked registries or appropriate infrastructure to track donors.

“We realized we needed to found, fix and fill those donor registries,” said Bryan Stewart, of the Donate Life America board of directors.

Now that the initial goal has been achieved, Donate Life has already begun another push that Stewart described as “audacious”: To get another 20 million Americans to pledge their organs by 2012.

“It will take a surge of those who have not checked the box at the DMV, a surge of high school students who haven’t had a chance to do so yet,” Stewart said.

Organ donation is, at its heart, a numbers game.

A single organ donor can affect 50 or more lives through the use of the eyes, skin or vital organs. The woman whose liver and kidney Swersky now uses also donated her heart, a lung and second kidney to two other patients.

Eyes and other tissues can also make a huge impact in people’s lives.

However, only 2 percent of deaths result in organs that another person can use, said Anne Paschke, spokesperson for United Network for Organ Sharing.

“It’s so important that everybody sign up because you don’t know who will be that two out of 100,” Paschke said.

Right now, there are 112,000 people waiting for an organ transplant, Paschke said. Seventy-nine people get one every day, and 18 die waiting.

Registration is particularly important for minority groups, like Latinos and African Americans, who suffer from diseases that impact the organs at far higher rates than whites.

African Americans comprise 35 percent of the people waiting for a kidney, despite the fact that they account for only 13 percent of the entire population.

The problem is supply, some of which can be attributed to a lack of understanding about organ donation, said Dr. Gabriel Danovitch, medical director of the kidney transplant program at UCLA.

“Fortunately, fewer people are dying of being shot in the head, or motorbike accidents,” Danovitch said, “so what we need to do is maximize potential.”

The import of registering is not the signature as it is the thought process that goes into it. It can help families talk about the act of donating, which makes it easier when the time comes, Danovitch said.

“They’re engaged in their own grief,” he said. “Families that have donated are happy they did it. In retrospect, they realize they [gained something] from that, a sense that the death was not totally in vain.”

Discussion may also lead to education and dispel common myths about organ donation.

Many people are unclear whether or not it violates religious doctrine, while others believe that a doctor won’t work as hard to save a victim if it’s clear they are an organ donor.

Both are false, Danovitch said.

All of the major religions in the United States sign off on organ donation, Danovitch said, and the teams that work on living patients are strictly separated from those that are involved in organ donation.

“Most people, in the light of day and when not faced with the stress of imminent bereavement will say that this makes sense,” Danovitch said.

Those that have not registered can do so at the local DMV or at www.donatelifecalifornia.org .

ashley@www.smdp.com

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