On any given day, there are an estimated 120,000 Americans awaiting an organ transplant.
While many think that waiting game depends on viable donations by deceased donors, greater than 90 percent of the people on such waiting lists may be able to be helped by living donors.
Heightening education about living-organ donation is just one of the aims of the American Living Organ Donor Fund.
Philadelphian Michael Mittelman has had three kidney transplants, the last of which was 16 years ago from a living donor, his mother. She has since passed from ovarian cancer, but her gift inspired him to co-found ALODF with Dr. Sigrid Fry-Revere.
“I wanted to honor her memory in some way,” Mittelman said about his mother. “She was a big believer in living-organ donation and I wanted to try to bring some of the challenges of what living-organ donors go through into the spotlight.”
ALODF provides grants to living donors to help defray costs associated with the procedure. Mittelman noted that living donors often have to grapple with $2,500-$10,000 in out-of-pocket expenses, such as lost wages; donors may be out of work for up to six weeks, and living-organ donation is usually not covered under FMLA, Mittelman said.
“Part of our goal is to say you should never have to make the decision to donate or not to donate because you can’t afford to,” he said. “Our position, and our push with the government, is that living-organ donation should be cost-neutral.”
The organization advocates for policies to advance living-organ donation and provides peer mentoring and patient navigation for donors.
“In our minds, once you’re a donor, you’ll always be a donor,” Mittelman said. “So if you need support later on around organ donation, we’re going to be there for you.”
Mittelman said he’s encountered many people who incorrectly assume that LGBT people, gay men in particular, are disqualified from being living-organ donors.
“The LGBT community has been pushed away from organ donation and blood donation in general, and because people know even less about living donation, many people just make the assumption that LGBT people can’t be living donors. And that’s just not true,” he said. “If someone in the LGBT community wanted to be a donor for a family member or even a stranger, they totally can do that as long as they qualify. And everybody goes through the same qualification process, which is very strict.”
The LGBT community can learn about living-organ donation and ALODF’s work at its first fundraiser April 27 at BoConcept, 1719 Chestnut St.
Tickets are $50, which include two drinks, or $75 for open bar. One-hundred percent of ticket proceeds will be donated to ALODF, which will restrict the funds to benefit donors in the Philadelphia area. BoConcept will donate 10 percent of sales during the event to the cause, and artists John Wind and Tim Eads will donate half of their proceeds from trunk shows at the event.
Wind, who is gay, has operated his eponymous brand for more than 30 years, specializing in handcrafted jewelry and small accessories, purses and gifts. Wind’s studio, based in Delaware County, has created private-label jewelry for clients such as Anthropologie, Disney and David’s Bridal.
Wind met Mittelman through family and said he was impressed by his commitment to the cause of living-organ donation.
“I heard his story and watched his incredible passion and commitment spreading awareness and helping more people dealing with this situation,” he said.
Wind said he was eager to get involved with the upcoming fundraiser. He plans to display a range of his products, representing an array of price points, from $20-$300.
The event will feature a silent auction and raffles, as well as the opportunity to speak with ALODF board members and a living-organ donor who has been assisted by the agency.
Mittelman said the local support for the event has been heartening; in addition to Bo Concept donating its space, local vendors have also hopped on board. Food and drink vendors include Wrap Shack, Mac Mart, SliCE Pizza, Revolution Taco, Velvet Sky Bakery, Vegan Commissary, HipCityVeg, Kiki Vodka, Iron Hill Brewery and the Union League.
While the goal of the event is to raise funds to support living donors, Mittelman said it’s also a good opportunity to educate the public, which has become an incidental mission of the organization.
“We didn’t set out and raise awareness about living-organ donation, but rather to protect and fight for the rights of donors. But we realized that every time we have a discussion about our group, people say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m a registered donor; it’s on my license,’ and we have to say, ‘No, we’re talking about living donation.’ It becomes an education session. So we want to tell people what living-organ donation is while also supporting the needs of people who choose to be donors.”
For more information or tickets, visit https://alodf.ticketleap.com/celebrate-life-a-living-donor-event/details.