Clinton Corners man sounds urgent call for organ donations
JENNIFER WARREN • FOR THE POUGHKEEPSIE JOURNAL
Volunteer work is nothing new to John Nansen.
The Clinton Corners resident has been involved in the Rhinebeck Recreational Soccer League for more than 30 years. Having served on the league's board of directors, as president and as a coach, Nansen, 64, is well-versed on the need to give back to the community.
That calling became more intensified five years ago, when Nansen's overall kidney function dipped to 7 percent and he underwent dialysis.
"When I was in the hospital, I saw such a great need to get more people involved with organ transplants," Nansen said. "So many people needed organs, and there just were not enough out there."
Nansen would soon be added to that list. He underwent dialysis for three years before doctors told him he needed a kidney transplant. After seven months of testing, Nansen was able to qualify and successfully have a transplant at Albany Medical in July 2008. The experience taught him many lessons, among them New York state's 49th-place national standing of people donating organs; 108,000 people in the state need a transplant and can't have one due to the shortage.
"Only 13 percent of the population is signed up to be donors in New York," Nansen said. "I think some of this statistic might be due to some of the myths and fears out there. Plus, it's not something people really think about."
Nansen wanted to change that reality. He has managed to do that in his role as the Dutchess County team leader for the Greater Metropolitan Donor Network in New York City. The network covers 13 counties. The donor network's chief aims are to educate people on organ donation and elevate the number of donors in the state. The donor network, a federally subsidized nonprofit organization, holds events at health fairs, colleges and mental- health facilities. In Dutchess County, one of its biggest events is the Dutchess County Fair. Approximately 25 volunteers, including Nansen, staff a booth from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. for six days.
The donor network booth is sponsored by Saint Francis Hospital, which helps pay for the group's appearance. Larry Hughes, public relations coordinator at Saint Francis, has witnessed the direct impact of Nansen's dedication to organ transplants.
"John is a case of someone very committed receiving the gift of life and giving back to others," Hughes said. "What he does at the fair cannot be replaced by a brochure, educating people on what they really need to know. As a result, Saint Francis is very happy to help support him, as we are committed to helping out with organ donation."
Much of what Nansen discusses with potential donors is what to expect in the process. For instance, once signed up, organ donors will be placed on the state registry, a much more direct and effective manner than enrolling via one's license.
"Oftentimes people's signatures can fade on the backs of their licenses," Nansen said. "This can make it much more difficult to have their wishes carried out."
Nansen said those exact organ donor details should be detailed to family members as much as possible beforehand.
"This way there are no questions," he said.
So far, Nansen's fair efforts have made a difference. This year alone, he helped sign up 436 people as donors. In just four years at the fair, 1,500 organ donor signatures have been tallied.
Nansen said he knows of about 10 successful donor operations in Dutchess County; he's sure there are many more. Despite the strides, however, he's well-aware more work remains. Lives are counting on it.
"We are trying to pick it up even more, enrolling as many people as possible," Nansen said. "There are about 15 transplantable organs and more people continue to need them than there are available ... about 18 people dying per day nationally awaiting organs."
The donor network has appeared at the Culinary Institute of America.
It is seeking to gain a presence at Marist College as well as at local Board of Cooperative Educational Services locations.