"You've Said 'Yes' to Donation. Now What?" is a National Donate Life Month story series that chronicles the ins and outs of the complex donation process. Journey with us during NDLM 2017 as we showcase the behind-the-scenes people who help turn tragedy into triumph by making donation happen.
"I know that we're making a difference; that the work we do helps to save lives." — Jennifer Aguilar, Community Outreach Specialist at Gift of Hope
Rewriting the end to a tragedy is a simple yet powerful explanation for what organ and tissue donation does. The compassionate decisions of donors and donor families to save and enhance lives through donation are the difference between life and death for people waiting for a second chance at life that organ and tissue donation offers.
It takes people saying "yes" to donation to make it happen. But how do you help people understand and feel good about such an important decision? Through information and education.
Jennifer Aguilar is a Community Outreach Specialist who works determinedly every day to inform and educate people in our service area about the benefits, significance and importance of organ and tissue donation. She admits that she didn't know a lot about donation before being hired almost one year ago. But she did know that she wanted to do work that touches people's lives and leaves an altruistic footprint in the world.
"People from all walks of life register to become donors or support donation because they want to do something good for others, but many still don't know everything and everyone involved in making organ and tissue donation happen," said Jennifer. "It's an incredible process that involves many people, and I feel fortunate to be part of it."
Efforts, Opportunities and Challenges
The Community Affairs Department develops and implements nearly 100 community-based programs to help people understand what organ and tissue donation is, learn about the critical need for donors and witness the positive impact donation has on thousands of lives each year.
The six-person team Jennifer is a part of partners with city officials, community leaders and local business organizations throughout our service area to share the message with constituents through ongoing programs and annual signature events. A robust volunteer force of 300 members includes donor families and transplant recipients and underscores the support of donation from communities throughout our service area.
Jennifer (left) spoke about the great opportunities that arise when she and her colleagues inform and educate people about this sensitive topic while out at events or festivals.
"One of my favorite events was the Muslim American Convention last December," said Jennifer. "This community, which we have only recently started doing outreach with, wants to donate, but they had doubts and questions. We had great conversations with many Muslims about what their religious leaders and sacred texts state about organ and tissue donation, and, by the end of the three-day convention, several more people were approaching our table for information."
She also shared some of the challenges that sometimes present themselves through tougher conversations about donation.
"The most difficult conversations are with people who have negative views or perceptions about donation, but these are often the most encouraging conversations," Jennifer said. "Our biggest goal is for people to know what Gift of Hope's role is in the donation process, that we're here to help and to provide important facts and information they did not previously have."
Donation Starts in the Community
Donation happens in the OR, but it starts in the community. Our Community Outreach Specialists help keep organ and tissue donation a mainstream topic of conversation, which is essential in the donation process. While Jennifer and her peers encourage people to register as organ and tissue donors, they also stress the importance of sharing the decision to donate with family and friends. Having that conversation makes the decision to donate on behalf of a loved one easier when the time comes.
"We want people to make informed decisions and to feel great about saying 'yes' to donation," said Jennifer. "When someone shares a story about a loved one who has donated or has a conversation with me because they received an organ transplant that saved his or her life, those are the stories that fulfill and motivate me to do my job."