Wisconsin organ registry grows from zero to 2.6M in 5 years

Associated Press

April 27, 2015

Green Bay Packer Randall Cobb meets with Charles Butler Sr., who received a double lung transplant 2 years ago, during a tour of Froedtert Hospital on March 31, 2015, in Milwaukee, Wis. Cobb also filmed a number of informational video segments as part of his involvement in an advertising campaign by Froedtert to boost organ donation.

GREEN BAY Wisconsin has seen the number of organ donors rise since relaunching the state's donor registry in 2010, according to a published report.

Five years ago, Wisconsin had zero registered organ donors as the state transitioned into a new system that includes legal consent for the lifesaving medical procedure.

Now, about 2.6 million residents are registered as organ, eye and tissue donors. But there are still some 2 million eligible residents who have not signed up, Gannett Wisconsin Media (http://gbpg.net/1Dqht4x ) reported.

Nationally, Wisconsin is slightly above average in the percentage of residents on its registry. Advocates hope outreach efforts, especially during Donate Life Month in April, will push the state's rate closer to 75 percent.

Gannett Wisconsin Media is teaming up with Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin and Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb to help build awareness of the need for organ donors in Wisconsin. Cobb, a registered donor since he was 16, toured the hospital in late March and recorded a number of video public service segments for the program.

"I want to raise awareness and make people more interested in finding out how they can help, and hopefully we can get more donors added to the list," Cobb said during that visit.

Transplant recipient Candee Biesterveld, Kaukauna, turns on her camera phone to take a photo with Green Bay Packer Randall Cobb during his tour of Froedtert Hospital on March 31, 2015, in Milwaukee, Wis. Cobb also filmed a number of informational video segments as part of his involvement in an advertising campaign by Froedtert to boost organ donation.

About 59 percent of people in Wisconsin 18 and older are registered as organ, tissue and eye donors, according to figures from Donate Life America. That places the state 23rd in the nation. The rank is a little higher, 19th, when residents older than 15.5 years are included in the statistics. State law allows teens to register as part of the process of receiving their driver's license.

Montana boasts the highest rate at 87 percent with Puerto Rico, at 19 percent, the lowest. The national average is 50.9 percent.

Until five years ago, Wisconsin did not have a registry that could be used for consent or authorization, according to Trey Schwab, outreach coordinator with University of Wisconsin Organ and Tissue Donation.

"In every situation, no matter if a person had a dot on their license or not, until five years ago we had to go get consent from the family or legal next of kin at the time someone passed away," Schwab said. "We had 2.3 million in our old system when we had to throw it all out and start from zero."

Wisconsin has the second youngest registry, preceded only by Puertro Rico's which was established in 2011. Schwab equates registration efforts to planting a tree it takes time to see the results in the number of transplants happening around the country.

"You're not going to see a lot the first few years, but as we continue to fill these registries we need to look five, 10, years down the road," said Schwab, who is also vice chair of the Donate Life America Advisory Committee. "As we get the percentage of people who are registered higher and higher, that will inevitably have to increase the number of transplants that will be done."