This article was written by Grace Wo, a first year student pharmacist and initiator of Donate Life Month at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore.
At the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, students are consistently involved in improving patient care and raising awareness about public health topics. Throughout Donate Life Month in April, a group of passionate pharmacy students collaborated with The LLF to raise awareness about the gift of organ and tissue donation to the public.
To kick off the month, the students held a lightning-round question competition on Facebook, where every day a question was posted about organ donation and students accrued points by answering the question quickly and correctly. Reaching over 500 people via social media, this competition conveyed the impact of organ donation. “I couldn't believe that one individual can give life to up to 8 other people through organ donation!” said Leena Doolabh, a first year student pharmacist and winner of the competition.
The team reached out to very diverse populations through tabling events at the Pharmacy Hall, the SMC Campus Center, the Spring Festival in West Baltimore, and the University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB) campus. In addition to answering a question about organ donation for a prize, current donors shared why they chose to be organ donors. Others signed up as donors if they felt ready to commit to that decision. From the tabling events it became apparent that many people are impacted by organ donation and transplantation. One woman at the Spring Festival shared a heartbreaking story of her daughter’s best friend who lost her transplanted kidney from rejection and subsequently passed away. “It was the unexpected moments like these that made everything in Donate Life Month worthwhile,” said Teny Joseph, a first year student pharmacist and coordinator at the Spring Festival.
The American Pharmacist Association Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) general body meeting marked the midpoint of Donate Life Month. Members were handed a picture of an organ or tissue to represent the organ or tissue they "received." Through this exercise, each participant was able to gain a tangible understanding that of the over 120,000 people on the waiting list, every individual is somebody’s mom, dad, child, or friend, and that one donor can save over eight lives through organ donation and more than 50 lives through tissue donation. Following a video about the process of organ donation, Dr. Idris Yakubu and Dr. Jacqueline Clark, pharmacy residents for Solid Organ Transplant from University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), joined the meeting to address the students’ questions about organ donation.
One of the month's ongoing displays was a story booth in the School of Pharmacy atrium. The "Superhero Story Station" celebrated the stories of Morris Murray and Morgan Yoney. Murray is a HIV+ liver recipient. Yoney was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at a young age and is still waiting for an O+ lung donor. (Morgan’s whole story can be found on Facebook under Morgans Army.) For Paul Algire, a first year student pharmacist, this opportunity was precious. “My partner's liver transplant three years ago was the catalyst for my pursuing a PharmD degree. It was great to see so many reminders of that this past month.”
On April 27, a stormy Wednesday was transformed into a Hawaiian paradise at Pharmacy Hall. Students showed up in their most festive Hawaiian shirts in honor of Matt Gabriel. Matt was a close friend of Ashley Fan, a third year student pharmacist and coordinator of the event. Hawaiian Shirt Wednesday was a goofy tradition that Matt started during college. Matt was heavily involved in the Goucher College community and also a member of the men’s lacrosse team. Unfortunately, on his way home one night, he was hit by a drunk driver and rushed to UMMC. Despite the medical team’s best efforts, Matt passed away on April 14, 2014. During this tragedy, a Family Services Coordinator from The LLF asked Matt’s family if they were willing to honor Matt’s wishes to be an organ donor. They agreed and because of their generosity, Matt saved the lives of four people. “Hawaiian Shirt Wednesday is one of my favorite memories from pharmacy school,” said Ashley. “It meant so much to me that my friends and peers helped celebrate Matt’s life and spirit. Together, we were able to raise awareness and funding (over $300), while having a great time.”
These events were made possible by the dedicated work of students committed to a noble cause. Every step of the journey was motivated by both the heartwarming and the heartbreaking stories from donors, recipients, and their friends and families. With generous support from The LLF, the passionate students reached over 700 people through tabling and social media, met 83 existing donors, and helped 11 new organ donors sign up. But beyond the numbers, the students hope their impact goes far beyond the quantifiable and continues to impact and inspire people to save and enhance lives through donation.