WORCESTER — To commemorate April is National Donate Life Month, organ donation recipients and the husband of a donor were joined by city and legislative officials for an event outside City Hall on Monday.
Kenny Laferriere, 37, of Charlton was 8 when he was diagnosed with liver cancer and needed to undergo surgery and chemotherapy treatment. Roughly eight years after his cancer treatments, Lafierrere developed a cardiomyopathy that damaged the left ventricle of his heart.
He received a heart transplant 20 years ago, and credits the donation with saving his life and allowing him to have a family.
“I believe that the donation decision and the transplant, it has a ripple effect. It allows that person not only to regain their life, but it allows them to return to their community, return to gainful employment, have a family, purchase a home have children — all those things that everyday Americans take for granted sometimes,” Laferriere said Monday. “A transplant saves a life, but also allows that life to return to their community.”
Laferriere now works for New England Donor Services and on Monday talked about the importance of people registering to become an organ donor.
Lafierre was joined by other people affected by organ donations, as well as Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty, state Sen. Michael Moore, D-Millbury, and representatives from the state Registry of Motor Vehicles, which allows people to quickly register as organ donors when applying or renewing their driver’s license.
Marco Santana, 45, of Worcester said he never had any serious health issues until he was 21, when he contracted strep throat during his job as a preschool teacher. The infection shut down both of his kidneys and put him on dialysis for 10 years before he got his first kidney transplant in 2010, and his second last year.
After Santana received his first kidney donation, he was able to attend nursing school.
“It’s given me a chance to feel like I can live and dream and do a lot of the things I wasn’t able to do before,” he said. “Not being tied to a dialysis machine frees up my whole world. It’s definitely a life changing, lifesaving thing.”
Organ donations came close to home for Bob Canfield, 83, of Hudson when his wife, Suellen, woke up one morning in 2001 and complained about a migraine before collapsing. After she was taken to a hospital, doctors determined that she suffered a brain aneurysm. She was pronounced brain dead the next day at 62.
Because Canfield’s wife was a registered donor and died in the hospital, her organs could easily be harvested for donations. Her corneas, kidneys, liver, pancreas and skin were given to others.
“We knew that a lot of people were helped because of (her donations),” Canfield said. “And the two people who received her kidneys were both off dialysis within a week. We thought it’s something she wanted to do because she loved helping people. And even in death she was able to help people.”
Canfield said that one of his friends was inspired to get a heart transplant from Suellen’s story as a donor. Canfield recommended that people who want to become donors tell their families about their decision, so the family is aware of their desires upon death.
“Registering as a donor provides hope to those waiting for the lifesaving transplant that they need,” Laferriere said. “The message here today is that you yourself may need a transplant so let’s provide hope to everyone that needs one.”
Moore presented New England Donor Services and the RMV with citations from both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate.
Petty also read a resolution declaring April Donor Life Month in Worcester.
“Many times in public life we always get asked, ‘What does government do for your community, what do you really do?’ ” Moore said. “This is one of those occasions when you’re proud to say what government can do.”
Massachusetts residents are asked if they want to register as organ donors when getting or renewing their driver’s license, Real ID, or ID at the RMV.
Matthew Boger of New England Donor Services said that around half of eligible residents are registered as organ donors and around 98% of those registered were through the RMV.
“We are honored as an agency to be able to ask that question and create miracles,” said Judy Cabrera, service center manager of the Worcester RMV.
A flag commemorating Donate Life Month was also raised on City Hall Monday.
Along with registering as an organ donor with the RMV, residents can go online to RegisterMe.org to register.