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Organ Donors, Transplants Increased in 2020 Despite Pandemic

An employee in a Utah driver license office wears a shirt that promotes signing up to be an organ donor. (Used by Permission Donor Connect)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Organ transplant officials said the number of organ donors and transplant recipients made sharp increases in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much of that can be credited to workers at Driver License Division offices across Utah.

People who walked into one of those offices Wednesday likely noticed employees wearing t-shirts and posters that promoted organ donation.

Little did those employees know that their shirts, emblazoned with the slogan “Smile if you checked yes for organ, eye and tissue donation” held special significance for the family of 16-year old Tyler Ostler.

He died 14 years ago in a forklift accident. During an online news conference Wednesday his family described why the t-shirts would have pleased him.

Tyler Ostler, 14. (Ostler family)

“It’s kind of neat how your campaign is smile. On Tyler’s headstone we have engraved ‘Smile For Me,’” Tyler’s father Tom Ostler said. “And that goes right along with how happy he would be to know that some of his tissues helped improve the lives of people that are still alive today.”

Ostler said his son’s donations included skin, which went to a burn patient at Primary Children’s Hospital, as well as a bone, arteries and his eyes.

“It was unfortunate for our family and we received so many blessings as a result,” Ostler said. “The people who received his donation have been blessed because we made that choice.”

This is the third year that DLD employees wore t-shirts to support organ donation. Tracy Schmidt, executive director of Donor Connect said, “Over 95% of people that registered to be a donor do it through the driver’s license. That’s where people — when they think ‘I want to be a donor’ that’s the connection. Really almost everyone thinks driver’s license when they’re thinking about signing up to be an organ, eye and tissue donor. So it’s such a critical partnership.”

Schmidt said despite the pandemic, Donor Connect saw a 20% increase in the actual number of organ donors, a 25% increase in people who received a transplant and a 17% increase in donors who qualified for tissue donation.

Chris Caras, director of the Utah Department of Public Safety Driver License Division, said, “Our experience when most people come to the driver’s license (office), they’re thinking of a heart or kidney, which are all very important and they’re more acquainted with that, but the need for different types of tissues for saving lives enhances lives is just as high across the United States.”

People can donate kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, small bowel and pancreas. Tissues that can be donated are eyes, heart valves, bone, skin, veins and tendons, according to organdonor.gov.

People are often reluctant to sign up as a donor because a long list of myths. One of the most frequent myths is that doctors will not save the lives of donors. The truth is doctors have one priority, which is to save lives.

Answers to other questions can be found online.

Donors can sign up in Utah at yesutah.org.

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