HARRISON, N.Y. -- A person dies every 18 hours waiting for an organ transplant in New York.
On Aug. 8, 2011, one of those people was Joseph Acocella who worked as the town clerk for Harrison.
At only 30 years old, Acocella was waiting for a second kidney transplant when he died.
On Monday, the fifth anniversary of his passing, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino joined with the Acocella family, Harrison Mayor/Supervisor Ron Belmont and organ donor advocates to pay their respects, and raise awareness for organ donations, during a ceremony at Harrison Town Hall.
“In many ways, it seems like just yesterday that Joe was with us, because his personality was such a remarkable one,” Astorino said. “He was always an inspiration to me, personally, and I often think about how he somehow managed to remain positive despite any challenges that stood in his way. His spirit certainly lives on here in Harrison and beyond, in our hearts and prayers.”
The Acocella family has worked tirelessly to advocate for organ donor registration. But there is still much work to be done, they said, citing that New York currently ranks 50th out of 50 states in terms of the percent of residents over the age of 18 who are registered organ donors.
“The vast majority of New Yorkers think organ donation is a good thing, but they don’t take the steps necessary to register,” said Laura Acocella-McCorry, Joseph Acocella’s sister. “The fact that only 27 percent of residents statewide are registered organ donors is just shocking to me. We need to make sure as many people get a second chance at life as possible. Every single donor can make a major difference.”
In fact, one organ donor can save up to eight lives; and one tissue donor can improve the lives of up to 50 people, according to the nonprofit LiveOnNY, the second largest federally designated organ procurement organization in the United States.
Currently there are 580 patients awaiting organ transplants at Weschester Medical Center. As acting chief of Intra-Abdominal Transplant and Hepatobiliary Surgery at Westchester Medical Center, Dr.Thomas Diflo, says kidney patients make up more than three-quarters of those awaiting an organ transplant.
“While Westchester Medical Center is at the forefront of transplant capabilities in kidney, liver, heart, bone marrow and corneal transplant, including using living donor transplants in some cases, the act of organ donation plays a crucial role in saving and restoring the lives of people in our communities,” said Diflo. “Through organ donation, patients of all ages are afforded a second chance at life.”
Sixteen-year-old Lauren Shields is one of the fortunate ones. She received a life-saving heart transplant in 2009 and her life was not only saved, but transformed. She is an outspoken champion for organ donations, and she most recently lobbied to extend a law that bears her name, “Lauren’s Law.”
The law makes it mandatory to answer the organ donor question on the Department of Motor Vehicle form when you register or renew your drivers license.
“Organ donation is beautiful,” said Shields, a resident of Stony Point, and a sophomore at Albertus Magnus High School. “It brings comfort to families when they know that their loved one’s death was not in vain; that something good happened from their most devastating loss. The generosity of a donor saved my life and I am so grateful.”
How to register as an organ donor in New York:
- If you are 18 and older, you can register to become an organ donor with the Department of Motor Vehicles; the Board of Elections; or via the Department of Health. Visit the New York State Department of Health for online registration options.
- If you are under 18 years old, your parents/guardian will make the decision regarding organ donation. Let them know your intentions so they can carry them out.
LiveOnNY is accredited by the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations and a member of the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the organ transplant waiting list in the U.S. For more information, visit LiveOnNY.org .