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Huntington raises Donate Life flag to urge residents to become tissue, organ donors

Christian Siems, of Huntington, received a heart six

Christian Siems, of Huntington, received a heart six years ago. He, along with Huntington Town Board member Mark Cuthbertson, talks about the importance of organ donation. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Northport resident Emily Briggs is a senior at Fairfield University studying nursing, with her sights set on becoming a pediatric nurse.

Those plans were inspired by time spent in the hospital battling aplastic anemia, a serious condition that results in the body not creating enough red blood cells, as Briggs awaited a bone-marrow transplant.

"I was lucky enough that my brother Alex was my bone marrow donor," said Briggs, 21, in a telephone interview from the school in Fairfield, Connecticut. "But sibling matches only happen in 25% of cases."

More often than not, people who need transplants will likely need to depend on the kindness of a stranger to save their life, organ and tissue donation officials said. Huntington Town officials are doing their part to raise awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donation.

"The Donate Life flag will fly throughout April and serve as a tribute to those who have either donated their organs or who have received the lifesaving transplants," said Huntington Town Board member Mark Cuthbertson.

The flag will be flown at the Village Green on the corner of Park Avenue and Route 25A.

Karen Cummings, community and government affairs liaison for LiveonNY, a Manhattan-based organ and tissue donation advocacy nonprofit, said New York State is last in the nation in registered organ and tissue donors.

"Our current numbers are 42% of New Yorkers registered to be organ donors," she said. "The average numbers of residents registered in other states are 62%."

Those who need a transplant have to wait an average of seven years to receive a transplant, officials said.

"An event like the flag raising in Huntington is such a key and important part to remind New Yorkers of the importance of organ donations and transplants," she said. "Also to see people who have received donations is a huge and important part and acts as a little tap on the shoulder to register to be organ donors."

Christian Siems, 27, will celebrate the six-year anniversary of his heart transplant on April 25. The Greenlawn resident, who works for the town and whose mother works for Cuthbertson in his town office, was diagnosed with an enlarged heart just after graduating from high school. He said it’s important for people to educate themselves on the lifesaving gift that is organ and tissue donation.

"People get all freaked out, but I think through a lot of education we have helped educate people that it’s not something to be afraid of," Siems said. "Through education we’re helping people overcome any irrational fears."

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said that there is a long list of New Yorkers waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant and that residents need to step up.

"Anyone age 16 or older can donate organs, and no one is too old or sick to donate because doctors test all potential donors to ensure donated organs and tissues are safe for transplant," he said.

For Cuthbertson, raising awareness about such donations is personal. His son, Hunter, was 18 when he was diagnosed four years ago with aplastic anemia. Luckily, his brother Aidan, now 17, was a match.

"A bone-marrow transplant gave my son Hunter back a normal life," Cuthbertson said. "He was very fortunate to have a sibling who was a match. However, 75% of people who need this transplant have to rely on the kindness of strangers, which is why it is so important for people to sign up to be donors."

HOW TO HELP SAVE A LIFE

www.LiveOnNY.org or at dmv.ny.gov.

To become a bone marrow donor, go to BeTheMatch.org.

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