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National Donate Life Month: Our message in a time of crisis

What do you do when your biggest month of the year falls in the midst of a national emergency?

This was the conversation taking place in organ procurement organizations, tissue banks, eye banks and other Donate Life affiliates across the country throughout the month of March – and, in many cases, even earlier. April is National Donate Life Month, when we focus on the need to sign additional donors to the organ donor registry, highlight the stories of transplant recipients and celebrate the generosity of donors and their families. Yet many states, ours included, are following mandated “Stay home. Stay safe.” policies that mandate social distancing and discourage anything but essential travel to attempt to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

There was talk about moving the recognition month later in the year or cancelling it altogether, the way events and press conferences have been postponed or canceled because of the virus.

Here at Gift of Life Michigan, the discussion was about tone. We are a compassionate organization, through and through, and we did not want to come across as insensitive in a time of national tragedy. We are all anxious. We are all concerned. We are all, in some way, already grieving during this growing pandemic. It affects us all. Also, the population we serve is at greater risk, because organ transplant recipients tend to have compromised immune systems that make them more susceptible to any illness.

At the same time, there is still a great need. Here in Michigan there are nearly 2,800 people waiting for a life-saving organ. Thousands more can be helped by donated tissue or corneas. This need will continue long after the current health emergency is conquered.

In short, we still have a job to do and an important message to share. Our work continues.

We have taken steps to protect our staff, patients and the community and will continue to update those procedures as more information becomes available. We have provided resources for transplant recipients and their caregivers and will add more when they come online. We have also kept our supporters informed about our actions and will continue to do so.

We have moved our celebration of National Donate Life Month to the virtual arena. We have created a calendar of ideas to inspire our supporters to share our message. We will have regular posts on our social media channels to provide information and encouragement. And we will also share positive stories. We do this out of respect and appreciation for the many people who want to talk about their experiences and inspire others to join the Donor Registry. It is not out of defiance of the unprecedented health emergency we are combatting, or even to distract from it.

It is our hope these inspiring stories will help us all see our way through to the brighter days ahead: when this pandemic has been defeated, our lives can return to some semblance of normalcy and nobody here in Michigan – or anywhere across the country – has to wait long to receive the life-saving organ they need.