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Legislation would require Maryland schools to teach students about becoming donors before they become drivers

Baltimore Sun logoBaltimore Sun 3/12/2019 Charlie Youngmann
a person sitting on a bed: Dr. David Reich, a professor in chief of transplantation at Drexel University and Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, shows a donor liver at the Gift of Life organ bank on Sept. 5, 2018. © Jessica Griffin / Philadelphia Inquirer / TNS Dr. David Reich, a professor in chief of transplantation at Drexel University and Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, shows a donor liver at the Gift of Life organ bank on Sept. 5, 2018.

Several bills progressing in the Maryland General Assembly would provide support for living organ or tissue donors, and educate high school students about becoming a donor.

Sponsored by Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D-Baltimore City and County, Senate Bill 954 could require county boards of education to begin teaching students about organ donation in public schools starting in the 2020-2021 school year.

That bill, and an identical piece of legislation sponsored by Delegate Pam Queen, D-Montgomery, are intended to begin teaching students about organ donation at the age of 14, before they receive their driver’s licenses and decide whether they want to be a donor, Queen said.

This bill is intended to get more young people registered as organ donors to combat the long waiting list for organ donation, Queen said. The bill is also aimed to promote awareness of live organ donation, she said.

As of February 2018, there were 3,375 people in Maryland waiting on organ donations according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Almost 2,500 of these people are waiting for a kidney — an organ that can be donated from a living individual — transplanted, according to department data.

In May 2017, Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, received a living donor liver transplant from his sister, Kathleen Bernhardt, according to a 2018 report from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Queen’s bill, House Bill 567, was heard by a Maryland House of Delegates committee February 21. Nathan-Pulliam’s bill is expected to be heard by a Maryland Senate committee Wednesday.

Other Maryland legislation, sponsored by Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, would ensure 60 days of unpaid leave for a recovering organ donor and 30 days for a bone marrow donor if the donor’s employer has at least 15 employees.

Johns Hopkins University’s Epidemiology Research Group in Organ Transplantation Director of Data and Analytics Allan Massie told a House committee about his experience as a bone marrow donor.

“In 2013, I won a strange kind of lottery,” Massie said. “I was found to be a genetic match for a young child in Utah who I had never met, who had a terminal disease I had never heard of and who hadn't even been born when I joined the marrow registry,” he said.

Because he works for a transplant group, Massie said he didn’t have to worry about taking time off after the donation. He said that because not everyone has this luxury, this bill would be necessary to ensure that people can make donations without risking their job.

American Kidney Fund employee Shayla Harris said this bill would continue to encourage people to become living donors like her sister, who donated Harris a life-saving kidney while she was in college in 2010.

“Organ donation saved my life and I believe living organ donors are real-life superheroes,” Harris said. “There are thousands of people in our state that need a transplant and whose health and life could be improved by the generosity of a living donor,” she said.

Eight other states offer some form of leave for either bone marrow or organ donation, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Senate Bill 705 and a corresponding bill in the Maryland House of Delegates would also prevent insurance companies from prohibiting organ donation or altering an insurance plan based on one’s status as a donor, according to the House bill’s sponsor, Delegate Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery.

About a quarter of kidney donors in Maryland have difficulty finding life insurance according to Massie.

A Maryland Senate committee voted favorably with amendments Monday on Senate bill 705. Luedtke’s counterpart, House bill 1284, was heard by a Maryland House of Delegates committee Feb. 28.

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