The number of people in Minnesota who have registered as organ donors on their driver's licenses and state identification cards has risen sharply.
The pool of organ donors is up 13 percent in the last three years, bringing the total number to 2.6 million, said Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman at a news conference Thursday. Officials also unveiled the Make Your Mark program that will educate teens about becoming organ donors.
"Minnesotans are generous and are eager to support important work, so it's no wonder that more than half of our friends and neighbors are organ donors," Dohman said.
Minnesota far surpasses the national average for organ, eye and tissue donors. About 63 percent of Minnesotans are registered donors on their driver's licenses, compared to 45 percent nationwide.
"But we can do more. This program is about doing more," said Susan Gunderson, Chief Executive Officer of LifeSource, the organization that manages organ and tissue donation in the region, referring to the teen program. "The reality is, even with the strong support for donations that we have right now, the need continues to grow."
She said there are far more people in need of an organ transplant than there are available organs.
More than 3,100 Minnesotans are waiting for an organ transplant. Last year, 101 people in Minnesota died before they could receive a transplant. They were among the 3,845 people awaiting a donor who died nationwide.
"Sadly, 18 people die each day simply because an organ did not become available in time to save their life," Gunderson said.
The Make Your Mark program launches a curriculum for driver's education classes about what it means to be a registered donor.
"Choosing to be a donor is probably one of the first adult decisions they have to make," Dohman said.
Halley Anderson, 16, of Brooklyn Center, who received a liver donation after being diagnosed with liver disease about five years ago, is one of the local teens featured in the Make Your Mark video that will be shown to students.
Anderson said she was lucky to have a liver transplant just three weeks after being put on the organ donor list. Hers came from Kayla Borgerson, a 17-year-old who died in a car accident.
"This was a bittersweet moment for me, because I knew that someone had to die for me to live," Anderson said. "But it gave me hope that other people out there still wanted to be a hero when they weren't there anymore."
Princess Titus of Minneapolis said that after her son, Anthony Titus, was killed at age 16, she learned he was an organ donor. His eyes were donated to someone waiting on the list.
"Just the way that my son left this earth [as an organ donor], and how he lived his life makes me happy," she said. "And it seems like that one sad part of him being a victim of gun violence just takes me to a depth I can't return from."
Titus said when she has a chance to encourage young people to be donors like her son, she feels he lives on.
The Make Your Mark curriculum is funded by Minnesota's "You & 2" program, which has raised more than $100,000 since last year. The program added the opportunity for Minnesotans renewing driver's licenses, identification cards, or vehicle tabs to donate $2 to educational programs for organ donation.
State Sen. David Senjem, chief author of the bill that created the "You & 2" program, said the Make Your Mark program was born out of this "tremendously meaningful bill."
"These kinds of things give meaning well beyond highways and buildings," said Senjem, R-Rochester. "This is directly something that affects patient lives and the lives of families going forward."
The "You & 2" program boosted the efforts of three non-profit organizations working to spread awareness about organ donation — LifeSource, Minnesota Lions Eye Bank and American Donor Services.
"Our vision is that everyone shares the gift of life, and that no one should die because of a shortage of organs available for transplant," Gunderson said.