New York student members
sign up organ donors

MMC Student Chapter members Robert Ashley, Patricia Miraflor, Rosie Wenrich, and Elevit Perez work the Give Us Your Organs booth. PHOTOS COURTESY OF ROSIE WENRICH

For 10 consecutive years, Marymount Manhattan College’s American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Student Chapter has held an on-campus event to raise awareness for organ donation and register donors in the state of New York. In an effort to lighten the mood around a topic that can be uncomfortable for some, the chapter holds the event close to Halloween, and the school’s biology majors dress as mad scientists. The chapter calls the event Give Us Your Organs, festoons its table with spooky balloons, and gives away gummy body parts, eyeball lollipops and other freebies.  

Collaborating with Long Live New York, a branch of the national Donate Life organization, MMC’s Student Chapter managed to register 50 new organ donors for the state of New York in 2015. 

The chapter focuses on organ donation because of the startling statistics about donation in New York, where the need for transplants far exceeds actual donations. More than 10,000 people in the state are waiting for organ transplants, but, according to Long Live New York, only about 1,000 organs were donated in 2013 (the last year for which statistics are readily available). A single deceased donor can save the lives of up to eight people who are waiting for heart, kidney, lung, pancreas, liver or small intestine transplants. Those who donate tissue can enhance many more lives — by providing corneas for the visually impared, skin grafts for burn victims and heart valves, ligaments and bones for still others.

MMC Student Chapter volunteer Robert Ashley says he finds the event satisfying. “As a volunteer, it was a great experience to be able to educate people who were unsure about exactly what being an organ donor means.” 

Ashley is also a donor. “It makes us, as individuals, feel better about ourselves by knowing we are willing to donate parts of our body to another individual in need,” he says. “Being an organ donor gives us the satisfaction of knowing we are helping save a life or allowing someone who is less fortunate to have a fighting chance.”

A senior biology major, Zane Younger, has been a volunteer for three consecutive years. He says, “I believe organ donation is essentially a form of postmortem philanthropy and benevolence. I enjoy debunking common misconceptions (about) organ donation in the populace of my school.” 

MMC Student Chapter members Patricia Miraflor, Emma Kamen, Kaitlin Ross, Alexis Valera and Zane Younger sign up a donor.

Patricia Miraflor, another annual volunteer, says, “I feel compelled to volunteer for this event every year because it is fulfilling to see peers willing to save lives or contribute to scientific research.” 

Each year, the MMC Student Chapter hears from a few students, staff or faculty members whose lives have been touched by organ donation and are moved to see the community contributing to the cause.

Over time, the MMC Student Chapter volunteers have noticed that young prospective donors are more responsive to the topic when engaging in the discussion with their peers rather than faculty members. The volunteers are typically biology students who feel strongly about the benefits of organ donation and are eager to spread awareness. 

In addition to the 50 newly registered donors, the entire MMC community gains exposure to the dialogue regarding organ donation. 

This exposure is important. It is apparent to organizers that a vast majority of the MMC community is ill-informed about organ donation. As biology majors, many of whom intend to go to medical school, Student Chapter members feel a responsibility to educate the public on health-related issues, including opportunities for them to help make a difference in the medical and research fields. 

Marymount Manhattan College

MMC is a small liberal arts college in New York City with a growing biology program. The biology major consists of 40 – 50 students, allowing for ample one-on-one attention for students and teachers as well as multiple in-house research opportunities. A vital area for student involvement is Marymount Manhattan’s ASBMB Student Chapter, which includes the school’s Science Society and Pre-Med student clubs. The clubs integrate students with various interests in science, including biology, environmental science and medicine, as well as non-science majors. All students of these clubs become members of the ASBMB Student Chapter, gaining access to all of the resources of the ASBMB and involving themselves in outreach activities as well as educational and research opportunities within Marymount Manhattan College.

It is also important to address the ethical concerns associated with organ donation, as ethical issues are integral to the practice of medicine. Making simple facts clear, such as the fact that organ donation doesn’t prevent holding a funeral, can influence someone’s decision to register. Many people also fear organ donation is against their religion or the traditions of their culture. Fact sheets provided by Long Live New York have been found to be effective in clarifying these common misconceptions held by potential donors.

Freshman biology student Kaitlin Ross says, “During my experience of helping with the organ donation table, I learned that there are a substantial amount of people interested in becoming organ donors, but some people do not always understand what being an organ donor entails. I think it is important to hold events like this to raise awareness and to educate people more thoroughly about what it means to be an organ donor.” 

Student Alexis Valera agrees. “During the organ donor event, many people did not know what it involved but became interested once we handed them fliers and spoke to them. Knowing that donating organs can save lives may further motivate students and faculty of MMC to do so. With the help of the Student Chapter, it would be beneficial to continually educate others and raise awareness about this important cause.”

To continue to raise awareness for the cause, the MMC Student Chapter will host a panel discussion this spring featuring organ recipients and family members of organ donors. The chapter received funding and support for these activities from an ASBMB Outreach Grant and is proud to spread awareness for saving lives through organ donation for yet another year.

Rosie Wenrich Rosie Wenrich is a junior biology and sociology major and president of the Science Society. She hopes to attend medical school after graduating from Marymount Manhattan in 2017.