Anna Gyland was 15 and a freshman at Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach when she first heard about organ donation.
“It’s not something that everybody talks about regularly,” Anna, now 16 and a sophomore, pointed out.
But she was pretty much sold on the prospect of registering to be an organ donor from the beginning. A few months later, after discussing the issue with her parents, she filled out the paperwork and made it official.
“It just made sense,” Anna said. “If I’m deceased and somebody needs something that I don’t need anymore, why not? They need it more than I do.”
Amy Reese, education coordinator for the Katie Caples Foundation, had made the presentation to Anna’s biology class. Talking to young people about organ donation is something she does on a regular basis.
The foundation she works for was established in 1998 by David and Susan Caples following their daughter’s untimely death. Katie was 17 and a junior at Bishop Kenny High School when she was in a fatal automobile accident. She had told her parents she wanted to become an organ donor while applying for her learner’s permit. By honoring their daughter’s wishes, they helped their daughter save five lives. The youngest was 9, the oldest 62.
Seven years after creating the foundation, Katie’s parents took another step toward organ donation education and awareness by starting the Katie Ride for Life, which turns 10 on Saturday. The event on Amelia Island now includes a bicycle fun ride as well as 18-, 36-, 62- and 100-mile rides and an off-road option, and a 5K and 10K walk and run.
GETTING THE MESSAGE OUT
Since 2005, the Katie Ride, as it is often called, has had more than 6,300 participants and raised more than $1.3 million for the foundation. All money raised by the ride supports its organ donor education program, Reese said. Through a partnership with LifeQuest Organ Recovery Service, the foundation has shared its message with more than 94,000 people, primarily at the high school level, in 36 counties in North Florida.
When Reese talks to groups about organ donation, she informs them that there are more than 120,000 people waiting for organ transplants. Because the need for organs greatly exceeds the number of donors, approximately 18 people die daily because of the lack of organs available.
Why the shortage of donors?
“Nobody wants to look their mortality in the face,” Reese said. “That’s part of the problem. And there are a lot of myths out there about organ donation.”
Here are some she frequently encounters:
Myth: When you’re an organ donor, medical officials won’t try to save you in life-threatening situations because they want your organs.
Fact: “Being an organ donor won’t interfere with efforts to save your life,” she said. “The medical team working to save your life is separate from the transplant team.”
Myth: “Organ donation is against my religion.”
Fact: Organ donation is widely accepted among most Eastern and Western religions, Reese said.
Myth: “There’s a cost to the organ donor’s family.”
Fact: There is no cost for organ or tissue donations. “If the family is ever billed, it’s a mistake,” she said.
Myth: “I won’t be able to have an open casket at my funeral.”
Fact: Your body is treated with respect throughout the process, and as a result, your appearance will still allow an open casket.
Myth: “Once I’ve agreed to be an organ donor, I can’t change my mind.”
Fact: “You can sign up online 24 hours a day by going to the state registry. You can remove your name just as easily, at any time.”
Most organ donors in Florida register at the Department of Motor Vehicles or tax collector’s offices through driver’s license-related transactions, Reese said.
If you’re interested in becoming an organ donor, she said, “the most important thing is to talk to your family and share your information.
“It’s a personal decision, and it’s OK to say no,” Reese said. “It’s not a choice for everyone. But I like to tell people that through organ and tissue donation, you could save up to 50 lives. You could be a hero to someone you never met.”
‘THE GIFT OF EXTRA LIFE’
Gary Goff, 62, has a hero he never met — a 17-year-old whose lungs he received in a transplant a little more than two years ago.
The Jacksonville resident had been battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease when he was put on the transplant list at the Mayo Clinic. The recovery process after he received a new pair of lungs was rough at first, but Goff was in good enough shape at the one-year mark that he got his doctor’s OK to do the Katie Ride’s 5K walk.
Goff chose the one time that the event was met with relentless rain and strong winds, but he was determined to be part of it.
“I got to a point where they were giving out refreshments and I kept seeing people go over the dunes. So I just followed the crowd and kept going and going,” he said. “At this point the wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t use my umbrella, and my shoes were filled with sand and water. I thought, ‘This is the longest 5K I’ve ever seen in my life, but I’ve made it this far, so I’m going to finish.’ When I got to the finish line, it turned out I’d done the 10K. My doctor said, ‘I would not have told you to do the 10K!’ ”
Goff said he knew little about organ donation before he was put on a transplant list. “It was a whole brave new world for me,” he said. “And I’ve been given the gift of extra life.”
He now teams up with Reese periodically for presentations about organ donation at area schools. “I’ll share my story as a person who’s been given an extended life because of an organ donor,” Goff said. “If you get one person to become a donor, you can impact the lives of many people.”
The number of participants in the Katie Ride for Life started at about 100 and has grown every year, said David Caples. “Every one of those participants becomes a live billboard for organ donation.”
When he sees how the event continues to bring awareness to the cause, he said, “I think it’s exactly what Katie would have liked to have seen happen. I think it’s paid off just the way she’d have wanted it to.”
David Crumpler: (904) 359-4164