By Pel Beyk and Michelle Lanctot

Sometimes, modern medicine can perform miracles. Sometimes, it takes a little bit more to save a life.

Last summer, doctors diagnosed 14-year-old Michael Finch with dilated cardiomyopathy, and he suffered congestive heart failure. Michael spent a full month in pediatric intensive care while UCLA cardiologists waited for a new heart. The transplant was successful, but he will have to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of his life to decrease the risk of his body rejecting the new heart.

Will Finch, a pre-med student at UC Santa Cruz, was inspired by his brother’s story and decided to see what he could do to help. Next Tuesday, he and the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) are putting on an organ and tissue donor registry drive on campus with the help of statewide donor organizations.

“I don’t know what it would be like to lose someone, but at least you can help another family,” Will Finch said. “I want to clear up common misconceptions people have about being an organ donor.”

“Hospitals are the key,” said Janis Goins, who works as a donation services liaison for many hospitals in Northern California. “They ensure that potential donors are not missed. I work with hospital [intensive care units] and emergency departments to help identify and refer potential donors. The important thing is to give families the option of donation. In many cases, the option to save other lives truly helps families cope with the horrific experience.”

Goins explained that it is important to provide accurate information.

“Some people fear the body will be mutilated, but such care is taken that even open casket services are possible,” Goins said.

Currently, more than 98,000 people in America await a transplant. While 77 transplants occur each day, 18 people die waiting. One person can save or improve as many as 50 lives, according to, the federal government organ donation website.

“The most common fear is if a doctor sees you are a donor, you won’t get proper medical care,” Finch said. “The truth is, the doctors are completely separate. Being a donor does not mean they won’t fight for your life.”

“Education is the whole point for us to have an outreach department,” said Angel Jara, community affairs coordinator for the California Transplant Donor Network (CTDN). “We feel that a lot of people decide not to sign up due to a lot of disinformation that exists in the community. If we can predispose the community to the facts around organ and tissue donation, there’s a greater chance that they will sign up to be a donor.”

The CTDN is pushing to find potential organ and tissue donors in California. “[The] national waiting list is about 98,700 people,” Jara said. “Of that, the total number of people in California is 21,000. That represents almost 20 percent of the national list. [That is] one reason why we try and push organ and tissue donation in California.”

_For more information or if you have specific questions about organ and tissue donation, talk to Angel Jara in the Quarry Plaza from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 15, 2008 or visit