RSO advocates organ donation registration on campus

By Jacqui Nguyen, Staff Writer

Many college students remember going to the DMV and getting their driver’s licenses when they turned 16. One part of the process they may have skipped over, however, was the section asking if they would like to be an organ donor. Groups of students across the country hope to address the lack of awareness, especially among young people, of organ donation and its life-changing abilities.

Sara Miller, graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, founded Student Organ Donation Advocates, or SODA. She currently serves as the President of the national organization. She created SODA back in 2014 as a way to share her passion for organ donation with others.

“At our core, we believe students can help reduce the organ shortage, so we try to make it as accessible as possible for students who are passionate about organ donation to get involved. We support students all across the country and provide them with resources to allow them to be effective organ donation advocates,” Miller said. 

Sara’s passion for organ donation advocacy stems from seeing firsthand the impacts it can have on others. When she was younger, her older sister passed away and became an organ donor. 

“I was able to see the impact of organ donation on my family and on the recipient’s family,” Miller said. “I wanted other people to understand that organ donation can truly be life saving and provide hope for families.”

In the past, SODA chapters held organ donation education and registration events as well as in-person fundraisers. The pandemic has changed the way these events can be planned. Despite the challenge of adjusting to COVID-19-safe guidelines, SODA has seen a lot of growth and establishment of new chapters, including a new chapter at the University. 

This chapter of SODA was established on campus at the beginning of the spring semester by Sami Newman, junior in AHS. Like Miller, Newman was also impacted by organ donation when her family friend became an organ donor after he passed away. 

“I was little, but I remember my parents talking about how brave that decision was for the family and that always stuck with me,” Newman said. 

As a premedical student, Newman was inspired to start a chapter when she was looking for RSOs on campus that had to do with the medical field. She came across SODA and realized that there was a need for organ donation education as well as a need to address the fear often associated with it.

Through SODA, Newman said she wants to bring attention to this often overlooked issue and make others understand that registering may be a simple task but it is extremely impactful.

“A lot of times, medicine focuses on the procedure and recovery, but not so much on where everything is coming from and with what materials doctors are able to do transplants with,” Newman said. 

Starting an RSO in the middle of the pandemic has presented a few challenges. Alisha Mahkri, junior in AHS and Vice President of SODA on campus, spoke more on how COVID-19 has affected event planning.

“The executive board has been working on starting the club all of last semester and we had to go through the process and barriers of starting a club in a virtual environment,” Mahkri said. “That meant contacting people and spreading the work virtually like through newsletters.”

Although this is SODA’s first semester at the University, the chapter already has held meetings and planned events. As of now, the chapter is planning a blood drive in collaboration with the Red Cross at the Union. Keeping COVID-19 in mind, they are also looking to have a station set up by testing sites around campus where students can scan a QR code that directs them to an organ donation registration website. All these events and future events will help young people become more aware and willing to help with organ donation. 

“I registered as an organ donor on my driver’s license, but I don’t think I truly understood what that meant until getting involved with SODA. I think as college students, registering is such an easy thing to do and it can impact so many peoples’ lives,” Newman said. 

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Editor’s Note: This story previously contained grammatical errors that have since been corrected. The Daily Illini regrets this error.