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Gift of Life HOSA Challenge brings students together to register organ and tissue donors

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Tristan Johnson said he constantly felt fatigued during his freshman year in high school. He no longer had the energy to get together with his friends or play his favorite sport, lacrosse. He didn’t learn why until a trip to the emergency room on Christmas Eve, 2018 revealed a startling diagnosis: he had an acute form of lupus that attacked his kidneys. He needed a kidney transplant. The Gift of Life HOSA challenge runs through Nov. 20

“I was really scared,” said Johnson. “There were a lot of things running through my mind.”

In the months that followed, Johnson’s life changed dramatically. He required dialysis three times a week – he would get the treatments early and then return to classes at Portage Northern High School. He was evaluated for a transplant and placed on the waiting list.

Fortunately, he didn’t have to wait long. Within six months of his initial diagnosis, he had the procedure and noticed the improvement immediately.

“My life completely changed. I was able to hang out with my friends again,” said Johnson, who is now a junior in high school. “I could start to play lacrosse again, which was the best thing to come out of it.”

Johnson said he did not know anything about organ or tissue transplantation at the start of his journey. Now, he’s one of dozens of students at more than 20 schools across Michigan getting the word out about donation and urging their classmates and communities to sign up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry through the Gift of Life HOSA Challenge, an organ and tissue donor drive competition that runs Nov. 2 through Nov. 20. HOSA chapters are part of the former Health Occupation Students of America, the organization now known as HOSA-Future Health Professionals.   

“A lot of people don’t know about organ donation unless it affects them directly,” he said. “The more people are aware of it, the more people will want to register – or be aware of the signs before they get too bad.”

Now in its second year, the challenge will take place virtually this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Students will dedicate three weeks to signing up people to the Michigan Organ Donor Registry online.  Each person who signs up on the Donor Registry for the first time using their HOSA chapter’s custom link will score a point for the chapter.

In addition to registering new donors, students will complete virtual activities and events designed to raise awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donation. At the end of the competition, awards will be presented to the top four chapters with the highest number of new donor registrations and the most activities completed in support of donation.

“We are excited to kick off another challenge with Michigan HOSA ,” said Dorrie Dils, CEO of Gift of Life Michigan, the state’s organ and tissue recovery program. “These students demonstrate true professionalism and leadership through their participation in the HOSA Challenge. The work they are doing is changing lives and will have a lasting impact. There are about 2,600 Michigan residents in need of life-saving organ transplants and each name added to the Donor Registry offers new hope to them.”

Samantha Pohl, assistant director of Michigan HOSA, added: “The HOSA Challenge fits perfectly with Michigan HOSA’s plan to provide professional development to our members virtually this year. It’s a great way for students to learn about the critical need for organ transplants and use that knowledge to make a difference in the community. We are grateful for our continued partnership with Gift of Life and appreciate them taking an interest in future health professionals.”

To sign up in honor of a Michigan HOSA chapter, visit www.golm.org/go/mihosa.

Michigan HOSA students have added 2,145 names to the Michigan Organ Donor Registry since the inception of the HOSA Challenge in early 2019.  A full list of participating HOSA chapters is available at www.golm.org/hosa.