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Today is PA Donor Day

Photo submitted to the Times Observer Rod Larson (second from left) is pictured with his parents and sister on his 50th birthday in 2013. Larson received a life-saving kidney and pancreas in 2009. The family designed T-shirts reading “Someone I love lives today thanks to an organ donor” and gave them to family, friends and others whose lives have been impacted by organ donation. The shirts were just one attempt by the family to promote organ donation and honor the family of his donor. They have never met.

The past 10 years have been good to Rod Larson. He has been able to enjoy family gatherings, traveled to England and is an active member of the Lander Volunteer Fire Department.

Larson is grateful he hasn’t had to rely on machines to keep him alive. As someone diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of 14, his wife, Lara, said they are both thrilled he no longer needs insulin.

His good health is the result of an organ transplant. He was the recipient of a kidney and pancreas on Oct. 22, 2009.

Larson said he managed his diabetes well until 2007. That’s the year he became machine-reliant and started dialysis. In 2008 his kidneys began to fail. He said doctors told him his life would be shortened. Lara recalls “almost losing her husband” while he was undergoing dialysis.

“We almost lost Rod several times while he was undergoing dialysis due to hypoglycemia caused by his dying native kidneys not being able to metabolize the insulin that he had to inject for his diabetes,” she said. “He was also not tolerating peritoneal dialysis well after about a year, so the transplant truly saved his life.”

Photo submitted to the Times Observer Rod Larson (third from bottom left) is pictured with his family on his 50th birthday in 2013. Larson received a life-saving kidney and pancreas in 2009. The family designed T-shirts reading “Someone I love lives today thanks to an organ donor” and gave them to family, friends and others whose lives have been impacted by organ donation. The shirts were just one attempt by the family to promote organ donation and honor the family of his donor. They have never met.

Lara said they will be forever grateful to the organ donor. “All we know about the donor is that it was a boy, just 14 years old,” she said. “Some family was devastated. But we got a gift.”

Rod, now 56, “would never have made it to 50 (or 56) if he had not received the life-saving kidney and pancreas from his donor,” Lara said.

Larson shared his story in hopes to inspire more people to register as an organ donor. Registration can happen any time but today marks a state-wide effort intended to raise awareness and the number of donors.

Donate Life Pennsylvania (DLPA) will host its first-ever PA Donor Day on Jan. 8, 2020, aiming to surpass 5 million registered organ and tissue donors in the state. Pennsylvania currently has a little more than 4.9 million registered donors.

The fact that one donor can save up to eight lives was the inspiration for the date of Jan. 8, 2020 (1-8-20); PA Donor Day is a collaboration with the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE), Gift of Life Donor Program (GOL), and the Pennsylvania Departments of Health, Education and Transportation.

With more than 7,500 patients currently on the transplant waiting list, the need for more registered organ and tissue donors has been called a public health crisis. “PA Donor Day is a unique opportunity to create a unifying moment across the state, a day when we can all work together to do good, to encourage our family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and others to learn more about the life-saving impact of organ and tissue donation and to register,” said Susan Stuart, President and CEO of CORE. “By joining forces, together we can create a momentous impact and help make a difference in the lives of so many Pennsylvanians.”

“Last year, organ donors across the country made 33,000 life-saving transplants possible. If every potential donor was registered, it is estimated that the number of lives saved each year would double. Registered donors make a difference and create positive momentum around this critical public health issue,” said Howard M. Nathan, President and CEO of Gift of Life Donor Program. “We are grateful for those employers, organizations and individuals who are participating in Donor Day and encourage all Pennsylvanians to join us in saving lives.”

Contrary to popular misconceptions, anyone can register as an organ and tissue donor regardless of age or health. To learn more about how to get involved with PA Donor Day and organ and tissue donation, visit donatelifepa.org/padonorday/ or follow @DonateLifePennsylvania on Facebook.

Larson said if he could give anyone advice he would tell them to register or “sign up.” “You can’t take your organs with you,” he said. “You can change a lot of lives.”

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