“This is a picture of her in high school,” Beck Owen said, going through photos of her daughter Melissa.
“Our daughter passed seven years ago this past Christmas Eve. She was 38,” Paul Owen, her father, said.
Becky and Paul Owen’s daughter passed away shortly after a brain aneurysm and a stroke.
“It was pretty immediate, her passing,” he said.
Before her death, she had chosen to be an organ donor.
“Like most of us, when we sign up on our driver's license when we’re 16, we tend to forget it. It’s there," Paul Owen said. "We see the heart under our name or our birth date, and we’re aware of it, but we seem to almost forget about it."
Melissa was able to donate multiple organs, including her heart.
“I mean, she’s a hero to us. She’s a hero to those families because she’s allowed that,” Paul Owen said.
A report from the United Network for Organ Sharing said that in 2021, deceased donation continued an 11-year record trend, with 41,354 organ transplants performed in the U.S., which was an increase of 5.9% over 2020.
“Our goal is to get as many Arkansans as possible registered to become donors because a registered donor makes the process of recovering organs so much smoother,” Audrey Coleman, the director of communications for the Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency, said.
The agency is also known as ARORA. They educate the public on organ donation and recover the organs in their territory for transplant as they become available.
“Even during the pandemic, our register numbers stayed up,” she said.
Aside from deciding when you get your license, Coleman helped implement these kiosks in public areas around Arkansas to help boost interest.
“More people are registered, more people are getting the information,” she said. And one of the reasons could be due to more access to registration points.
“Just a couple of years ago, for the first time, we passed the point wherein the United States more than 50% of adults were on an organ donor registry,” Brian Shepard, the CEO of the United Network for Organ Sharing, said.
Of the 57 organ procurement organizations – OPOs for short – in the U.S., 49 saw an increase in donation over their 2020 total. ARORA included.
“The OPOs, we come together and share what we call best practices among all the OPOs to find out what everyone’s doing. What’s working in their areas and bring that back to our area to make sure we’re optimizing everything we do for every donation opportunity, every organ donor, and every transplant,” Mark Tudor, the CEO of ARORA, said.
“We’re doing two organ donors currently right now, and we have the potential to save eight to 10 more lives today,” he said.
As interest in being a donor grows, Becky and Paul Owen also play a vital role in sharing their message and the importance of organ donation at events large and small.
“It’s that gift that keeps on giving because you can extend someone's life that would not otherwise be able to keep on living,” Paul Owen said.