Organ donation advocate is a quiet hero

Source: The Poughkeepsie Journal | Larry Hughes

Jon Nansen goes to the Dutchess County Fair every day it's open.

He's not there for 4-H milkshakes. This year, for the sixth year, the 65-year-old Clinton Corners resident sat at a booth and signed up organ donors.

Nansen speaks from the heart to people at his Saint Francis Hospital-sponsored booth. Or, to be more anatomically correct, from the kidney. He received a kidney transplant in 2004.

But he'd already started volunteering for the New York Organ Donor Network before receiving his transplant.

I waited as he finished discussing donating the gift of life with a couple. Building A was crowded on the second morning of what turned out to be a hurricane-shortened fair.

He and his fellow volunteers at that point had secured 34 organ donation pledge cards. They'd gathered at the hospital in June for a training session with donor network representatives. Some of the trainees staffed a booth at the Orange County Fair.

"You see a lot of people, and it's exhausting," said Bob Cadwallader, who worked with Nansen during my visit, one of about three dozen volunteers gathered by Nansen. "It's also a lot of fun to get people to change their minds and sign up. That's a great feeling."

Cadwallader got a heart transplant 13 years ago.

Nansen said the two people he'd just signed up asked about burial preparations, for one thing.

"People who work in health care are the best informed, but a lot of the general public are surprised when we tell them how the state stands. They're just totally surprised when (they find out) how bad the state is. We're still dragging our feet."

Nationwide, more than 100,000 await transplants. New York ranks almost last of the 50 states for people waiting.

Over the years, Nansen's efforts have resulted in more than 1,500 signed pledge cards.

There are many misconceptions and even more excuses for not signing a pledge card. Think you're registered as an organ donor on your driver's license? New licenses don't carry over that information. And some people's sense of religion is an obstacle.

Nansen has heard every excuse for not signing up, and he shows amazing patience. He understands it's a very personal decision, and if you opt not to sign the pledge, that's OK.

Nansen is one of our community's quiet heroes. While so many are mired in the never-ending discourse on the role of government and what it should or should not do, he concentrates on the role of the individual.

Starting with himself.

For more information, call the New York Organ Donor Network's information line at 800-GIFT-4-NY (800-443-8469).