Project Aiming to Increase Organ, Tissue Donation Focuses on Educating Middle-School, High-School Students

By Lois Baker

Release Date: November 17, 2000 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Working to educate children to deliver to their families the important messages about organ donation is the focus of a new program, "Talk it Up," being launched by the University at Buffalo and Upstate New York Transplant Services (UNYTS).

"The failure of family members to talk with one another about end-of-life issues is a significant barrier to organ donation," said Judith Tamburlin, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the departments of Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Sciences and Anatomy and Cell Biology at UB.

"Signing a donor card is an important step," she said, "but it isn't enough to guarantee donation. We are confident this project will help overcome that barrier."

Slated to begin next spring, "Talk it Up" will be funded with a three-year, $534,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and aim at educating middle- and high-school students and their families about the importance of organ and tissue donation.

Mark Simon, chief executive officer of UNYTS, and Tamburlin are co-principal investigators.

"The largest obstacle the transplant community faces is educating families to talk about donation with their loved ones, and to inform them that they are talking about giving life, not about death," said Simon.

"In 1999, UNYTS conducted a thorough study of attitudes toward organ and tissue donation in the community. Our results revealed that almost 69 percent of the respondents are 'somewhat' or 'very' likely to donate their organs. However, nearly 56 percent of the same respondents had not told family members or loved ones about their feelings."

More than 70,000 Americans are waiting for an organ transplant, Simon noted, including at least 300 Western New Yorkers.

"Talk it Up" will take this message into the schools, where UNYTS staff will present a component on organ donation in health-education courses in 30 middle schools and high schools in the region. Erie County schools will be targeted first, with schools in all eight Western New York counties eventually participating in the program.

UNYTS staff will discuss why organ and tissue donation is important, how it works and how to bring up the subject with family members and loved ones. Students will be encouraged to arrive at an understanding of each family member's wishes.

This award brings the total the two agencies have received for education in organ donation to nearly $1.3 million. UB and UNYTS received a $783,000 grant in September 1999 from the same agency to increase awareness of organ donation among African-American, Hispanic and Native-American populations.

Meanwhile, UB medical students have formed an Organ Donation Special Interest Group and have received $2,000 in grants from UB Sub Board I, the student-owned and -operated campus service organization, to carry out campus- and community-education programs on organ donation.

Sanna Thompson, Ph.D., and Deborah Waldrop, Ph.D., assistant professors in the UB School of Social Work, also will be involved in the "Talk it Up" project.