SALEM - Area residents can pledge the gift of life to others and learn more about organ donation during Organ Donor Awareness Day in Salem from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Giant Eagle.
"Come and be educated," city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst said.
The event is the result of a challenge tossed to area mayors by Wellsville Mayor Susan Haugh to register people as donors and bring more awareness about organ donation to the public. The Wellsville community recently suffered a loss when a young woman named Chelsea Lingenfelter died during her transplant surgery last month after waiting over a year for a new liver.
Wellsville scheduled an event for March 23 to raise awareness and Haugh asked other mayors to do the same. Salem Mayor John Berlin accepted the challenge to support the cause, enlisting Kenst to spearhead the effort, in conjunction with Lifebanc, the nonprofit organ and tissue recovery organization for northeast Ohio.
Berlin said this is something "we can support as a community." He said his family's been fortunate, but he was surprised to find out that organ transplants are more common in the area than people would think. The lives of some Salem area residents have been saved due to the gifts of others, in many cases by people they'll never know who donated their organs after death.
For Salem resident and Leetonia Superintendent Rob Mehno, that was the case when he received a kidney on May 15, 1986 after waiting two years on a transplant list, the last 10 months without any kidneys and going through dialysis more often.
"It was truly a gift and a blessing that someone looked past a tragedy to give life to someone else," he said.
A virus destroyed his kidneys while he was in college, with the problem discovered during a physical for spring football at Slippery Rock University. He failed the physical and by fall was on dialysis. After the transplant, he continued on with his life and was never contacted by the donor's family, which is their option.
About a year and a half ago, his kidney function started to decline and last April he found himself again facing the possible prospect of dialysis and another transplant operation. His niece, Angie Pitts of Alliance, another Salem grad, remembered what life was like for him the first time around. She used to spend time with him when he was on dialysis and would play nurse.
So when he invited his siblings over on July 4 and asked them to be tested to see if anyone matched for a possible live donor kidney transplant, she said her gut was telling her she should do it, even though he only wanted his siblings tested.
"I didn't want to see him go through that again," she said.
She gave a blood sample to get her blood type, then came the test when their blood was cross-matched and she hit on five of the six categories and was deemed an exceptional match. She knew she would need to convince him that it was okay and he said he wanted to make sure she was comfortable with what she was about to do.
"She did such an unselfish thing," he said.
Three days after Christmas, on Dec. 28 at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Angie gave her uncle Rob the best Christmas gift ever, one of her kidneys.
By New Year's Eve, they both went home, ending the year on a healthy note although Angie had to change her diet a little due to a high level of oxalates, which can link with calcium to form kidney stones.
She said donating the kidney was the most rewarding thing she's ever done in her life. She wished more people would be living donors.
When she was preparing for the operation, she saw a quote by Sir Winston Churchill that she cut out and kept and said it's appropriate to use to explain why to donate.
The quote said, "We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give."
"I take every day as a gift," Mehno said.
His blood levels are now in the normal range for the first time since college.
Both Mehno and Pitts plan to volunteer some time during Organ Donor Awareness Day. Representatives of Lifebanc are expected to be on hand to explain the process of organ donation or answer questions.
Former Salem High School golf coach Fred Girscht, who received a new kidney and pancreas 12 years ago, volunteers for Lifeline of Ohio in Columbus, the organ and tissue recovery organization serving central and southeast Ohio. He explained that when someone who's an organ donor passes away, the organization for that area handles all the arrangements and talks with the family about the donor's wishes.
For more information about Lifebanc, come to Giant Eagle on Saturday or visit the website at www.lifebanc.org.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org