3 mothers hope change to Kentucky driver's license will increase organ donors

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJanuary 17, 2013 

  • Want to help?

    Any Kentucky resident can join the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry at the Circuit Court Clerk's office or online at www.donatelifeky.org.

Starting next week, people who want to add their name to the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry will have the option of having a small blue heart with the words "Organ Donor" printed on the front of their driver's licenses, state Transportation Cabinet spokeswoman Lisa Tolliver said.

Kentucky updated its driver's license in 2012, improving security and adding features such as a ghost image to reduce fraud and a veteran designation for honorably discharged military personnel. The organ donor designation is the last part of the driver's license makeover, Transportation officials said in a statement Tuesday.

The new blue emblem embedded in the license, which will be offered beginning next Tuesday, replaces an orange dot sticker, according to Shelley Snyder, Executive Director of Kentucky Circuit Court Clerks' Trust For Life.

"Now, we don't have to keep up with an orange sticker that may fade or rub off," Snyder said.

Having a name placed on the confidential database of all registered organ donors in the state means a person has legally consented to donate their organs when they die. The authorization does not require the consent of a family member or other individuals.

Three Lexington women say they want to be among the first in line when staff at Kentucky circuit clerk offices print the new organ donor emblem on driver's license. The women think the new logo will raise awareness for the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry, and have their own special reasons for wanting to take part in the program.

It's important to Michelle Upthegrove because her son Braxton Upthegrove, 15, is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. Brandi Speck's motivation stems from her son Riley Speck, 8, who is alive because he got a heart transplant in 2006. And Sarah Gilbert said she will show her support for the emblem because her son, Jacob Gilbert, 4, died four months ago when a donor heart could not be found.

"He would have been five the day after Christmas," Gilbert said.

Jacob had a heart condition that had no cure. He was on a list of children waiting for a heart transplant for 16 months and his overall medical condition declined during that time until he was no longer a candidate, Gilbert said. "Because we didn't get a heart in those 16 months, we lost him forever."

When renewing or replacing a license or identification card, circuit clerk staff members ask each person if he or she would like to be a registered organ donor. Everyone who says "yes" will have the option to have the small, blue heart printed on his or her license. Answering "yes" also adds the individual's name to the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry, which was established in 2006 by the Kentucky General Assembly.

There are more than 750 people on Kentucky's waiting list for a transplant and more than 116,000 people nationwide, said Charlotte Wong, Education Coordinator for Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA), the state's licensed procurement organization.

Michelle Upthegrove said she is eager to spread the word to encourage people to join the registry.

Her son Braxton had his first kidney transplant at 6, but has rejected the donated kidney. He has been on a transplant list since June, his mother said.

"His medical history has made it even harder to find a match," she said.

Speck said she hopes more people ask questions after seeing the emblem.

"My son, when he was a baby, was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition and he was going to die without a new heart," Speck said. "My son got a new heart and he is with us today because of it. So the more people that know about organ donation, the more lives that could be saved."

People on the registry don't have to add the symbol. But those wanting to prior to their renewal time can purchase a duplicate license for $12, said Tolliver. Those waiting to add the heart until their license is renewed will be charged the regular renewal fee of $20. The cost involved is for the license renewal or duplicate. The cost to add the heart symbol and your name to the registry is free.

"Every person that knows about it," said Gilbert, the mother whose 4-year-old died, "even one more person, can save someone's life and can change an entire family's life dramatically."


Want to help?

Any Kentucky resident can join the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry at the Circuit Court Clerk's office or online at www.donatelifeky.org.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409.Twitter: @vhspears

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