Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Kenton organ donations set pace

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — When Joan Benzinger-Schuler lost her only daughter at age 28 to an apparent blood clot, the decision to donate her organs meant that “a part of her was living on.”

        “I received a letter within four weeks of Mary Lou's death saying that two people were seeing because of her,” the Edgewood woman said. “For any mother who's lost a child, that's the greatest consolation, to know that part of your child is living on.”

[photo] Joan Benzinger-Schuler, a Kenton County deputy clerk, donated organs of her daughter, Mary Lou Benzinger (in framed photo), when she died in 1992.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        More than eight years after her daughter's death, Mrs. Benzinger-Schuler helps promote organ donation through her job as a part-time deputy clerk for Kenton Circuit Clerk Mary Ann Woltenberg.

        Largely because of the efforts of Mrs. Woltenberg's deputies, Kenton County drivers are way above aver age when it comes to donating money to Trust for Life, a statewide program to promote organ donation, said Berkley Scott, executive director of the Kentucky Circuit Court Clerks Trust for Life.

        Last year, 54.4 percent of Kenton County's drivers gave a dollar to the Trust for Life program when they renewed their driver's license or obtained a duplicate, Mr. Scott said. That's far above the statewide average of 43.3 percent, or Boone County's 31.1 percent, and Campbell County's 34.9 percent.

        Funds from Trust for Life cover a year-round public awareness campaign to encourage Kentuckians to donate their organs and tissues at death, so that others might live.

   • For information on becoming an organ and tissue donor, call LifeCenter at (800) 981-5433.
        Last year, circuit clerks throughout the state collected a total of $369,412 to pay for radio spots, TV commercials, newspaper ads, billboards, pamphlets and bumper stickers about organ donation. Since the trust was created in 1992, Kentucky's organ donation rate has jumped 63 percent, Mr. Scott said.

        In Ohio, the similar Second Chance Trust Fund — started in July, 1997 — raised $480,062 last year, one dollar at a time.

        Through such public awareness programs, organ procurement centers in Ohio and Kentucky hope to dispel common myths and fears about organ donation and explain the urgent need for donors, advocates say.

        In Greater Cincinnati, 276 people are awaiting a life-saving organ transplant, said Mark Sommerville, assistant director of the LifeCenter of Cincinnati.

        Throughout Ohio, 2,200 are awaiting one or more organs, while Indiana has more than 800 residents waiting, and Kentucky has more than 500, Mr. Sommerville said.

        Mr. Sommerville cited a recent study by the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research that he said proves these campaigns are effective.

        The survey of residents in 16 Greater Cincinnati counties (including six in Northern Kentucky and two in southeastern Indiana) found that 85.8 percent of the 1,529 polled were willing to have their organs donated at death — up from 81.3 percent in 1999.

        In Northern Kentucky, 91.8 percent of those polled last year said they would donate organs — up from 86.6 percent in 1999.

        “I think it all goes back to awareness,” Mrs. Woltenberg said.

        “My deputies always ask everyone who comes in to renew their license if they'd like to donate a dollar to the trust fund.”

        Of course, it helps to have a few deputy clerks like Mrs. Benzinger-Schuler, who know organ donors or recipients. More than eight years after her daughter's death, Mrs. Benzinger-Schuler said she is reminded of her daughter's gift every time there is publicity about a parent donating a child's organs.

        “If I see that someone is really hesitant about organ donation, I tell them that because of my daughter, two people are seeing,” Mrs. Benzinger-Schuler said.

        “Our children touched our lives. Now they can touch someone else's.”

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