Rocklin High students learn about 'gift of life'

Info on organ donor registration provided
By: Amanda Calzada, Placer Herald Correspondent
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The tale of an eight year-old forced to endure peritoneal dialysis for 10 hours a night for six months launched one local mother’s campaign to raise awareness about organ transplants. “Nothing could be more inspiring than watching a child get a second chance at life. I want others to be as fortunate as my own child,” said Judy Johnston, a representative for Sierra Donor Services, who gave a presentation to health classes at Rocklin High School earlier this month. The tale of her son’s six-year battle against a chronic illness and his miraculous recovery set the tone for her presentation on the gift of an organ donation. Johnson also taught the students about the functions of various organs as well as the difference between brain death and coma. A pediatric registered nurse, Johnson decided to assist Sierra Donor Services in educating high school students about organ donations so they can make an informed decision when they earn their driver’s licenses. In general, most individuals resist organ donor registration based on misconceptions or lack of information and education, Johnson continued. “Most people are fearful of the unknown and of death, but it’s really about ‘giving life’,” she said. According to Johnston, once people are informed of the need for organs and the facts, they understand they have the ability and power “to turn a tragedy into the gift of life.” Each donor has the potential of saving as many as eight lives through organ donation and improving the lives of another 50 individuals with tissue donations, she added. Johnson has noticed that teenagers are generally enthusiastic about the cause and are willing to bring a miracle into the world. “It is hard to imagine myself in the shoes of someone who is on dialysis and waiting to get an organ transplant,” said Rocklin High School sophomore Alina Holtsman. “It’s comforting to know, however, that I can sign up to help those in that situation. What is even more inspiring is how you can donate while still alive.” Johnson says she is always amazed by the students’ level of attention and interest. Frequently, students approach her privately to share their personal stories, struggles, or tragedies related to transplants. She has heard from students who are cancer survivors and near future transplant recipients. Johnston recalls one student, who shared that his closest friend died while waiting for a transplant. In addition to her recent visit to health classes at Rocklin High, Johnson has talked with students at Placer, Foresthill, Chana, El Dorado, Roseville, Granite Bay and Lincoln high schools. “We will definitely have her back,” said Rocklin High health teacher Michael Wagner, who added that Johnston was thorough in answering the students’ questions. Johnston is thankful Rocklin High teachers have been very supportive of the presentation. “We believe that organ and tissue donation education should be a required curriculum in every high school health and science class in California, as it is in many other states,” said Katherine Doolite, community outreach manager for Sierra Donor Services. “We are currently supporting AB1967 by John Perez, which will require that organ and tissue donation be taught in public schools.” Organ donation registration takes “two minutes” and is a confidential process, Johnson continued. Donors can specify which organs and tissues they wish to donate. They also have the right to change their decision at any time. If an organ is not healthy enough to be used for an actual transplant, it can be used for medical research, particularly in finding cures for diabetes, heart or liver disease. “Ask yourself,” said Johnston, “what’s your legacy?” For more information, visit