Patty Stockdale visited the Redwood Area Community Center March 14 as part of the healthy living program. She is the donor liaison for the Minnesota Lions’ Gift of Sight Eyebank at the University of Minnesota, and she spoke to a large crowd of attendees.

The program started in 1959 when a member of the Austin Lions club named George Dugan approached the U of M and encouraged it to form an eye bank; several other states had already begun them.

“It really has roots going back to Helen Keller,” said Stockdale, “who charged the Lions with doing something about it.”

Stockdale shared many key statistics and facts about donation, in addition to dispelling several rumors. There are more than 3,000 people on a waiting list to receive an organ in the tristate area. 

Every year more than 100 people die because of a lack of available organs. Every 10 minutes, someone new is added to the donor waiting list.

Not every donation is the same; for organs to be recovered from a donor, strict circumstances must be met as the donor expires – oxygenation is crucial and only one in every 100 donors can actually contribute.

Thirteen percent of Minnesotans are listed as donors, but that number is rising. Stockdale hopes we will soon rival Iowa who was an 80 percent rate. Specifically, Stockdale works with eyes.

Doctors can recover and use both the sclera (the white part) and the cornea from a donor, and eye donation is slightly different than other organs. Eyes are different in that they do not meet the same strict requirements as other organs regarding ventilator usage.

“There is no blood flow to the cornea,” said Stockdale.“Vision is also not a factor. Even blind people can donate their corneas.”

Age and medical conditions such as macular degeneration also do not disqualify a person, especially in the case of donations for research; doctors are constantly searching for new treatments against disease and those tissues are not wasted.

Last year, their eldest donor was 107 years old.

The biggest area where organ donation is stressed is during driver’s education courses. Any person can become a donor by listing it with the DMV while renewing a driving license. They can also do it on the Internet, while getting a Minnesota hunting or fishing license or by completing an advanced directive that has been recorded and attached to a person’s medical records.

A donation is not always about helping save the life of a person on the waiting list. Sometimes the gift of an organ does not fit a specific or immediate need but can be donated to medical research.

Stockdale noted that being registered as an organ donor does not mean your organs and tissues can be used for research; that authorization must be made specifically and is not available with a license registration. The recommended path for that is listing it as a possibility in an advanced directive.

Not only is Stockdale invested in the program as a coordinator, but she has a personal story attached to her interest. A couple years ago her mother passed away during a hospital visit and so Stockdale speaks from experience.

“Organ recovery is very respectful and reverent,” she said. “It’s nothing like Grey’s Anatomy.”

Stockdale thought it was wonderful that her mother’s eyes might be used to help someone see again.

“At first I was disappointed to learn that they would be used for research and didn’t meet the specific criteria for a transplant,” she said.

After doing some initial study she learned, “Research donations benefit more than one or two recipients. They help improve surgical techniques and go on to help thousands in the long run.”

Stockdale added, “Families aren’t usually comfortable discussing their post mortem wishes. If we’re lucky we know if a family member wants a cemetery burial. If we’re really lucky, they told us where to bury them. It’s important that we have those conversations as a family, even if they are uncomfortable. That way nobody is surprised when a donor coordinator calls after a loved one passes, and the family can respect the departed’s wishes.”