A Priceless, Selfless Gift: Niagara County to Launch Major Push for Organ Donations

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LOCKPORT—With 33,000 drivers licenses set to renew annually over the next three years, Niagara County Clerk Joseph A. Jastrzemski wants to have a frank conversation with local drivers about the importance of joining the organ and tissue donor registry.


That conversation will be held at a 10 a.m. Friday press conference at the County Courthouse. It coincides with a blood drive being held by county court personnel.


“Donating organs and tissue is a priceless, selfless gift,” Jastrzemski said. “It’s a difficult thing for some people to accept, but when you meet actual organ recipients, people whose lives were saved or radically improved because a motorist made the choice to make their organs available, you realize just how important it is that our drivers consider checking that box when they apply for their licenses.”


Sheriff James R. Voutour, who will be joining Jastrzemski at Friday morning’s ceremony encouraging donor awareness, knows a thing or two about it as well, since his own daughter is the recipient of a tissue donation.


“My daughter’s life was turned around because someone else understood fully that their last act in life could be to improve—and even save—the lives of many others,” Voutour said. His daughter, Lydia, received a tissue transplant to regain function in her knee last year.


“As sheriff, I have had to see far too many motorists’ lives cut short,” Voutour added. “The knowledge that an individual’s tragedy was also a defining and good moment for so many others is one of those things that really brings you comfort when you are responding to a devastating scene like that.”


Jastrzemski noted that new high-security drivers licenses mandated under the federal “REAL ID” Act are coming up for renewals over the next three years, including a large number of enhanced drivers licenses, meaning that during that time 100,000 county motorists will pass through DMV offices to renew their licenses.


Jastrzemski is hoping those drivers will choose to become organ and tissue donors during the process—and his efforts are being fully supported by the Niagara County Legislature.


“New York state still lags nationally. The Empire State has the second-lowest level of driver participation in the donor registry nationally,” Legislature Chairman Wm. Keith McNall said. “Meanwhile, you meet some great people every day who are on waiting lists for organs, and you realize how important it is that every motorist thinks about being counted.”


Unyts is partnering with the county for Friday’s event, which will include the hoisting of a Unyts flag at the County Courthouse. Coinciding with the press conference and flag raising, a blood drive is being held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Courthouse’s third floor Jury Assembly Room. This is one of four blood drives held annually by the New York State Unified Court System.


“Nationally, April is recognized as a time to raise awareness about the importance of organ, eye, tissue and blood donation,” Unyts President and CEO Mark Simon said. “Currently, there are over 115,000 people in the U.S. waiting for a transplant, and 100 people in WNY will need blood today. Together with great partners like the Niagara County Clerk’s Office, Unyts is working to change this and ensure that we are enhancing and saving lives every day. It will be important moving forward that we continue to collaborate with each other and concentrate on increasing the community’s knowledge and understanding about the need for donation and transplantation.”


Diane Fallgatter, a liver and kidney transplant recipient from Lockport, will be among Friday’s speakers.


Jastrzemski personally signed up as an organ donor two years ago, saying at the time that as county clerk—and head of the county’s Department of Motor Vehicles—he needed to lead by example on an important issue.


“Organ and tissue donation is something we need to encourage in county motorists,” Jastrzemski said. “The old saying is true: you can’t take it with you. But you might be able to turn another person’s life around.”


The event will also feature representatives of Unyts and local dignitaries.



WHO:  Niagara County Clerk Joseph A. Jastrzemski; Legislature Chairman Wm. Keith McNall, R-Lockport; Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour; liver transplant recipient Diane Fallgatter; Commissioner of Jurors Christopher Pannozzo; DMV Deputy Clerks.


WHAT:  Raising Upstate New York Transplant Services “Donate Life” flag over Niagara County Courthouse for month of April.


WHEN:  Friday, April 6, 10 a.m.


WHERE:  Niagara County Courthouse flagpole, 175 Hawley St., Lockport.



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