UW-O students use fun and games to create more organ donor awareness
April is the National Donate Life Month and to spread awareness of organ, tissue, marrow and blood donation, the UW-Oshkosh Public Relations Student Society of America is participating in the National Organ Donation Awareness Campaign again.
The campaign is to encourage people to have a donor dot on their license and to think about donation in order to help some of those on the transplant list.
“I have a donor dot on my license and I plan to donate my organs, but beyond that I haven’t given it much thought,” senior and member of PRSSA Kelly Engebretson said.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing Web site, there are more than 100,000 people on the transplant list, but in 2009 there were fewer than 30,000 transplants performed in the United States.
PRSSA members have taken what they have learned as journalism students to host an event with activities, food, prizes and question and answer sessions. This event is to provide more information to students, faculty and staff on how and why to become an organ donor.
“I introduce the students to the campaign rules and regulations, provide a time frame, and help them get started with research,” PRSSA adviser and professor Julie Henderson said. “However, this is definitely a student-created and student-run campaign. As a team, the students come up with all the ideas for the events.”
This year’s members discussed ideas ranging from a Mr. Oshkosh competition, a battle of the sexes competition and a food-tasting event, but the chosen idea was to hold a dodgeball competition dedicated to Caleb Bertagnoli and the donation of his organs.
Bertagnoli was 5 years old when he swallowed a thumbtack that got lodged in his windpipe and was sent to the hospital. He went into cardiac arrest and his brain lost oxygen for nearly 15 minutes.
“Just like everyone else, I was hoping for a miracle,” Engebretson said. “I wanted [so] badly for Caleb to somehow live through the horrific thing that had happened to him.”
After his transfer from Mercy Hospital in Janesville to American Family Children’s Hospital, part of the UW-Madison hospital system, the thumbtack was removed and Bertagnoli’s doctors put him into a coma to prevent swelling on his brain.
When Bertagnoli came out of his coma, his temperature and heart rate spiked as his brain enlarged that night. He was pronounced dead at 10:15 p.m. on Dec. 16, 2009.
Bertagnoli’s heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, intestines, corneas and kidneys were donated to sick children across the United States.
“I felt that what Caleb’s parents chose to do was the most selfless decision they could have made,” Engebretson said. “After Caleb’s donation I have a new respect and admiration for all people who decide to donate their own organs or the organs of their family members.”
As a friend to Bertagnoli’s aunt, Engebretson was not there at the time of the organ donation, but knew the obvious love the Bertagnoli family had for Caleb. She sees the organ donation as a heroic act by the family and said it deserves to receive recognition.
“It is unfortunate that something so tragic had to happen to someone so young,” senior and member of PRSSA Liz Koeck said. “But I am sure that others are very fortunate that his family has decided to donate his organs and give others the gift of life.”
In order to persuade others to donate blood, marrow or organs, PRSSA is holding a dodgeball tournament, Live’R Die, on April 15 at 5 p.m. in the Kolf lower gym with food, prizes, question sessions and a birthday area dedicated to Bertagnoli.
“I think Caleb’s story istouching and it’s important that it isn’t lost during the dodgeball games,” junior and PRSSA member Katherine Steil said. “I think that was an incredibly brave choice for his family to let us focus on him for this event. [Their] choice of donating his organs was a choice that was able to save other lives.”
PRSSA has also chosen the liver as the organ of focus at the event.
The liver is the only internal organ that is capable of regenerating itself and re-grows from just 25 percent of an original liver.
According to the Live’R Die Web site, a donor does not need to be deceased to donate a portion of his or her liver.
Senior and PRSSA Treasurer Jordan Clark-Mand said with an event that would be trendy enough to catch students’ attention, PRSSA would be able to spread news and information about organ donation, especially liver donations.
“With the weather being nice, I know it is going to be more difficult to get people indoors for something like this,” Clark-Mand said. “Last year we dealt with a less-than-desirable turnout and I would like to see us handle that better.”
Incentives for participation will be prizes for first place, and also for “Best Dressed,” “Most Spirit” and “Liver Lover.” Prizes include a free stay at a bed and breakfast, gift baskets, free car washes and approximately 200 Mount Olympus passes for the spring and summer.
“Please take time to e-mail us at email@example.com or visit our Web site to sign up at www.dodgeballclassic.weebly.com,” Engebretson said. “You will not only be able to participate in an awesome (and free) dodgeball tournament, you will learn about a courageous little boy and the importance of organ donation.”
Students who would like to form a team must have seven players, with at least three females.
A roster of each team must be sent in via e-mail or the dodgeball classic Web site by April 10.
“It is very rewarding for me to watch them start with nothing, and then build an entire campaign that is professional and well thought out,” Henderson said. “My students always impress me with the amount of time and effort they are willing to put into a project, and how involved they come with the cause.”