Saving lives one registered donor at a time

CIO Donate Life aims to raise University awareness about organ donation


Donate Life held their first annual LifeSaver Saturday to raise awareness about organ donation in the University community and beyond. The event brought guest speakers to the University to share their personal stories about organ donation.

During the summer of 2001, Maria Diaz was a promising student getting ready to begin her second year at the University. But on August 24, in a tragic accident, her car suddenly veered off the side of the road. She died instantly.

Throughout her life, Maria was a strong advocate of organ donation, but the accident left her organs ineligible for donation. Her family’s mission to educate and encourage others to become organ donors in her honor inspired third-year College student Anika Turkiewicz last spring to start work on creating the contracted independent organization Donate Life, a group focused on increasing awareness about organ donation on Grounds.

“When I came to U.Va., [I immediately noticed] that although there were hundreds of CIOs, one advocating for organ donation was conspicuously absent,” Turkiewicz said. “Despite being dissuaded by advisors, I started working to establish the organization spring semester of my second year and kick-started it my third year.”

Last Saturday marked the organization’s first annual community engagement event: LifeSaver Saturday. Collaboration with other lifesaving CIOs Hoos for Cure and Autism Speaks allowed Donate Life to reach a larger community — though the organizational aspects of the event were sometimes challenging.

“It is hard to mobilize a major event working with other CIOs,” second-year College student Jake Power said. “You hope to inspire a vision, but the technical side of it doesn’t make it that easy.”

Guest speakers from Virginia Beach and Richmond attended the event to share their personal stories about organ donation. In the years to come, Donate Life aims to spread its efforts outside the University to the Charlottesville community as well.

Though the CIO is in its early stages, members hope the organization will become larger and more well known. Members have partnered with hospitals to shadow workers and offer volunteer work to help the club grow its pre-health network.

“Hearing guest speakers talk about their personal experience and being able to work alongside hospital members has been the most rewarding part of the club,” said first-year College student Anousheh Bakhti’shuroosh.

The CIO aims to become a visible presence in the community so it can further people’s understanding of donation and encourage individuals to make rational, fact-based decisions about organ donation.

“Anytime we are tabling, most people are very open and receptive [about organ donation],” Power said. “I was so surprised as to how many people were willing to learn about it and change their minds about it based off the facts we provided.”

The organization plans to collaborate with Mike London and members of the football team to host another event focused on bone marrow registry in mid-April.

“Though I certainly am proud of my academic achievements,” Turkiewicz said, “empowering and inspiring my peers to also champion this worthy cause gives me a sense of purpose far greater than efforts I put into work that benefits me alone.”

Published March 30, 2014 in Life

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