GREENVILLE — Area residents stopping by the Greenville Secretary of State’s Office on Tuesday had the chance to learn a little bit about Michigan’s Gift of Life organ donor program, thanks to the efforts of local volunteer Larry Alman.
Alman, a Greenville resident who suffers from glaucoma, has received six cornea transplants, procedures without which he would be totally blind. The eye drop medications he must take for his glaucoma are so strong they effectively, over time, “kill” his corneas.
Even with the transplants, Alman’s vision is far from perfect. Nonetheless, he’s the last one to complain.
“I’m legally blind,” he said. “But I get along alright. It’s better than being totally blind, and I would be if I hadn’t had the cornea transplants.”
As a way of saying thank you to Gift of Life Michigan, the organization that makes his transplants possible, Alman goes out the first Wednesday of every month to spread the word. A member of the Lions Club himself, Alman also visits area Lions chapters to deliver a half-hour program on the benefits of organ donation.
Signing up to be an organ donor has never been easier, according to Alman. Currently, those renewing a Michigan driver’s license is asked if they would like to join the donor registry. Those who agree to do so are given a small “heart” sticker to affix to their license.
Alman estimates about 30 to 40 percent of the people he talks to during a typical informational event, like the one Tuesday at the Secretary of State’s office, are already signed up to be donors.
“Last year was the highest year of people signing up,” Alman said. “I think there’s more awareness now, and that’s part of my purpose in doing this — to get the word out as much as I can.”
Volunteers like Alman are key to the program’s success, according to Gift of Life Michigan Communications Director Tim Makinen. About 1,000 volunteers state-wide help educate the public with regard to the program.
“We also have many volunteers from the Eye Bank and Lions Club,” Makinen said. “They’re critical to our mission. A lot of our volunteers are recipients of organs or have lost family members who went on to become donors. Their stories resonate with the public.
“When you can talk to someone who actually experienced a life-saving transplant, someone who wouldn’t otherwise be here today, that’s a pretty compelling reason for someone to join the registry, which is what we’re looking for.”
Tuesday was Donate Life Day, the highlight of Donate Life Month, which has happened every April for the past 16 years in partnership with the Lions Club, the Secretary of State and the Michigan Eye Bank.
As long as there is a need for more donors, volunteers like Alman will be out there hitting the streets and spreading the word. For many of them, the program’s success was, and is, a matter of life and death.
“When you die you’re either going to be burned or your body’s going to decay, anyway,” Alman said. “Why not save somebody else’s life before that happens?”
Potential donors also may join the registry online at ijoin.org or giftoflifemichigan.org. Alman is available to deliver his program on organ donation anywhere within the area.
For more information, call (616) 754-9213.