Tennessee Donor Services launches #BeTheGift Challenge to register more organ donors

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — More than 100,000 patients in the U.S. are still waiting for transplants, including 3,000 in Tennessee, according to Tennessee Donor Services.

This is why the nonprofit needs more people to register as organ and tissue donors.

Tennessee Donor Services registered 107,000 new organ and tissue donors in the state as part of its inaugural #BeTheGift Challenge in 2021.

This week the organization is bringing back the challenge and increasing its goal to 115,000 new registered donors by the end of the year.

“I’ve had 18 years of normal life because of the transplant,” said Doug Turley.

Turley and his wife Bonnie Chakravorty are not only celebrating their love this Valentine’s Day but also the gift of life.

“We met about 21 years ago at a national conference of the Alpha-1 Foundation. And Alpha-1 (antitrypsin deficiency) is a hereditary condition that can lead to life-threatening lung or liver disease,” said Chakravorty.

The disease destroyed their lungs, putting Turley on the transplant list first and Chakravorty years later.

“I was diagnosed when I was about my mid-30s and had my transplant when I was 48,” Turley said.

It’s a gift they say they will cherish forever.

“It’s a gift that keeps on giving. It’s something that whoever is the recipient will cherish and it makes a real difference. So it’s something that everyone can do,” said Chakravorty.

TDS reported that in 2021 that 433 Tennessee organ donor heroes gave lifesaving gifts that resulted in 1,232 organ transplants. Additionally, 2,468 tissue donor heroes provided gifts of healing and mobility.

“We’re so proud to have Tennesseans behind this challenge, to have more people donating and recognizing the importance of saving someone else’s life than ever before,” said Jill Grandas, executive director of TDS.

Grandas is encouraging everyone in Tennessee who is not yet registered to step up to the challenge and #BeTheGift.

“Up to eight individuals can be transplanted with a solid organ and up to 75 individuals can benefit from a tissue donation,” she said.

Turley and Chakravorty say they hope more people can sign on to be future donors.

“I think it is a process of education, people learning more about what really goes on and not let their fears take over so they can understand it’s a true gift,” Chakravorty said.

One they say that keeps on giving.

“I would hope that doing things like this would increase people’s curiosity enough to check into it and find out what it’s about,” said Turley.

The 2022 #BeTheGift Challenge kicked off on Saturday during the basketball game between the University of Tennessee Volunteers and Vanderbilt University Commodores in Knoxville.

The teams challenged their fans to visit BeTheGiftToday.com to vote for their favorite team and support organ and tissue donation.

The Alpha-1 Foundation’s Peer Guide Program connects a newly diagnosed Alpha, or someone whose life has been affected by Alpha-1 (Peer), to another Alpha (Guide) with a similar set of circumstances. Through this connection, the Peer has the opportunity to discuss difficulties and issues he/she is experiencing with someone who has already experienced these same issues. The Guide provides emotional support, discusses resources available and enables the Peer to make choices about their health and lifestyle. The Guide listens. A lung affected Alpha is paired with another lung affected Alpha. A parent of a newly diagnosed child is paired with another parent. Someone facing a transplant is paired with someone who has already had a transplant. Caregivers are paired with other caregivers.