Organ donation needs our support

Healthcare clients often ask for our help in telling stories about drugs, diseases, and unmet needs. More times than not, some part of the solution lies in putting a face to the data points and humanizing the condition.

Healthcare clients often ask for our help in telling stories about drugs, diseases, and unmet needs. More times than not, some part of the solution lies in putting a face to the data points and humanizing the condition.

At this time last year, little did any of us at Ogilvy PR know that our skills in this arena would be tested by a very real life-and-death story involving one of our own staffers.

On a summer day, a colleague fell mysteriously ill, was hospitalized, and was suddenly given days to live - the result of a rare genetic disorder, called Wilson's Disease, that had gone undetected.

Shari Kurzrok, who just days earlier had been planning for a big client event in Miami, was declared Status 1 on the national transplant list - meaning she was not expected to live for more than a week unless a liver that was a match for her could be found.

All of us at Ogilvy PR found ourselves determined to make a difference. We did what we did best - we ran an immediate media and community relations campaign to raise awareness and spread word of Shari's situation far and wide.

In fact, our efforts played no role whatsoever in getting her the liver she received through the kindness of a stranger on August 6, 2005, because she was on the United National Organ Sharing (UNOS) waiting list. But what I am certain of is that our work - supported by the efforts of so many in the PR community, for which we are grateful - made a vital contribution toward raising awareness of the importance of organ donation.

Shari never intended to be the poster girl for organ transplantation or imagined that the New York Post would refer to her as "the liver lady." But like it or not, Shari became - as our friends in the media would say - a character-driven story. A young, attractive woman with a glamorous job in New York, just months away from her wedding and on the brink of death, was irresistible to the media.

She's not alone. Currently, more than 92,000 people await a life-saving transplant; more than 17,000 are in need of a liver. Many can only benefit from someone else's generosity when a tragedy results in a deceased organ donor. Others, such as those in need of kidneys, can be helped by living donors.

This week, in honor of Shari's anniversary, we are starting the next phase of our quest to raise awareness of the pressing need for organ donation. We are kicking off a two-week Organ Donor Awareness and voluntary registration program across all US offices in partnership with the New York Organ Donor Network and other organ procurement organizations. We'll work through our internal channels to ensure that Ogilvy staff nationwide are educated about this need and how they can become registered organ donors.

We hope those who rallied in support of Shari's cause last summer will join us in helping so many others who don't have the support of a PR firm to share their stories or who remain on the UNOS list long after Shari's happy ending, marriage, and return to work.

Please go to the Donate Life America Web site, donatelife.net, to learn about the need for organ donation and how you can become a registered donor.

The PR community united last year to help one of our own. So many others still need our help.

Kym White is MD of Ogilvy PR's New York office.

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