Brewster resident Bill Becker has beaten the odds as an organ recipient, and now he is turning to others to help change the statistics in honor of National Donate Life Month.
When Becker, 56, received a kidney transplant on Easter Sunday in 2008, he had been waiting less than a week for the organ. His kidneys were functioning at 5 percent because of uncontrollable hypertension. News that doctors had found an ideal match in Florida was a “miracle” — especially given the fact that his brother was not an ideal candidate.
“I was one of the fortunate ones, I got very, very lucky,” he said. “I’ve known people that are on the list for years.”
Statistics from New York Organ Donor Network estimate that 18 people die every day in this country waiting for their own “miracles.”
Nearly three years after his, Becker has endured what he hopes to be the most difficult parts of his post-transplant journey: memory issues, battles with pneumonia, chicken pox and meningitis, as well as a weak immune system. It is only within the last few weeks that he has started walking again, but he still calls his recovery “fairly easy.”
Back on his feet, Becker is sharing his experience and enthusiasm in the hopes that others will give some thought to becoming a donor, something that had not entered his mind until he was in need of a new kidney. He and other volunteers will be at the Putnam County from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. a handful of days this month sharing success stories and facts about donation.
According to the network, more than 110,000 people in the U.S. are currently waiting for organ transplants. Almost 8,000 of those people live in the greater New York City area (click to read about one Bedford boy who is a living part of those statistics). In 2009, there were less than 300 deceased organ donors in the area.
“There’s a huge gap,” Martin Woolf, the organization’s communications manager, said.
Even with 22 percent of eligible people in Putnam County registered as donors, New York State's figures are still far behind the national average of approximately 40 percent. Numbers in Dutchess, Orange, Westchester and Rockland counties range from 14 to 20 percent, according to Woolf.
“There are so many lives that need to be saved,” he said, adding that 95 percent of donors enroll at the DMV. This is the organization’s first campaign of its kind, with recipients, donor family members and other volunteers stationed at DMVs throughout the region.
Woolf said the organization is hoping that anyone who goes to renew a license, which is something most people do every eight years, will hear a success story and have the “momentum” to check the donor box on the form. One donor could save up to eight lives, according to Woolf.
“I don’t know her name, I never met her, but I think of her daily,” Becker said of his donor.
Meet Becker Tuesday or later this month on April 25 or 26. If you won't be visiting the DMV anytime soon, click here for other ways to enroll as a donor.