‘Awareness’ topics lead to apathy

By Mariann Main

April 29, 2014

By Mariann Main

Somehow April is ending. Today is the last day, to be exact. Wasn’t Tax Day just a week ago? Fourth of July will be here tomorrow, or so it would seem if the warp speed of 2014 continues.

April has a multitude of designations for “Awareness” campaigns. Suddenly each month has been inundated with health and wellness topics. Were you aware that April was “Autism Awareness Month,” “Child Abuse Prevention Month,” “Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month,” “National Humor Month” and “National Poetry Month,” “Parkinson Awareness Month,” and “Stress Awareness Month,” just to name a few of the approximately 25 “awareness” campaigns I counted? Personal favorites for me are “National Facial Protection Month,” “National Financial Capability Month,” and “Foot Health Awareness Month,” whatever all of those might involve. Sarcasm aside, it is also “National Donate Life Month,” which is the one crusade I merit most important of all.

Seven years of my life was spent working for an organ donor agency. It was both the most rewarding and heart wrenching position I would encounter during my various careers. Hearing the details of every unexpected death occurring in the organization’s service area was almost unbearable, especially when the demise involved a freak accident or simply being in “the wrong place and the wrong time.” The solo salvation from the sadness and abrupt loss of vibrant lives was the opportunity for organ and or tissue donation to occur, thus giving others a second chance at life.

Presently 122,000 Americans are awaiting an organ transplant somewhere in the United States, per the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which maintains and constantly updates the potential recipient list. Every 10 minutes another name is added of someone needing a heart, intestine, kidney, liver, lung and pancreas at one of the 244 transplant centers nationwide, per Joel Newman, Assistant Director for Communications with UNOS. Daily seventeen of those already listed die while awaiting a needed organ.

When I began in 1993 as a Community and Hospital Educator, the number of potential recipients was approximately 34,000. During the past 21 years, the list of possible recipients has exploded and it appears that we Americans are not making much progress in addressing this ever-growing shortage of donor organs. A primary issue is that the United States medical community has very stringent standards for brain-death declaration. European mandates for brain death are not as herculean along with “Presumed Consent” protocols allow many more sudden deaths to proceed as organ donors.

To become an organ donor, the brain holds the key to potential donation via head trauma or malfunction due to an aneurism, drowning, a gunshot wound, heart attack, a stroke, or other bodily trauma from a non-reversible cranial injury. The blood flow is compromised, the brain ceases to function, and brain death is declared. If the brain continues to have any level of brain-wave activity, no matter how minimal, a brain-death declaration is impossible in the United States, even if the patient had requested to be a donor. After a catastrophic injury, the person has been maintained on a ventilator allowing the body to continue functioning, but the brain has been compromised beyond repair.

Looking back on those seven years I spent with an Organ Procurement Organization (OPO), one salvation to counteract the sadness, was my interaction with organ recipients. Sometimes I would realize that the organ they had received originated from a donation in which I was involved or remembered the unique details. Several of those transplant recipients became dear friends. One donor mother, who sadly lost a son to suicide, has remained a close confidant for almost 20 years. I have attended weddings of recipient family members or baptisms of their grandchildren, all events of those who luckily received a transplant and would have missed, without the unselfish act of another family who allowed organ donation to become a reality.

As I continue now as a volunteer for that same OPO, this year I heard nothing on television or read in any newspaper that April was “Donor Awareness Month.” While I was employee, the airwaves were filled with stories of recipient appreciation for the donor family who gave them a second chance at life. Nor back then do I recall any other April health topics competing for public attention besides organ donation. Now in 2014, we have gone overboard with our “awareness campaigns,” as countless others vie for attention. The messages have been diluted, with none of them receiving much of our collective consideration. How about returning to three or four major causes versus 25? Do we really need “Sports Eye Safety Awareness Month?” or did I fail to mention that one?

As a side note, numerous readers contacted me on last week’s column specific to the network morning news “chat-athons,” and the skimpy, mostly sleeveless attire of many female co-hosts. All agreed that the assault on our half-awake senses has become obnoxious. The consensus’ “worst winner” seemed to be ABC’s Good Morning America (GMA), especially since the recent abrupt and unexplained departure of news anchor Josh Elliott from that show. Others complained about the onslaught of never-ending commercials during morning viewing that are perceived to air louder than the news program. Thank you readers for the feedback, and please do not hesitate to e-mail me directly at if there is a topic you think merits commentary.

Mariann Main is a Licensed Counselor and a Delaware native. Her column appears weekly on Wednesdays. To submit a question and have Mariann answer it anonymously, send mail to the Delaware Gazette office, 40 N. Sandusky St., Suite 203, Delaware, OH 43015.