Photo Gallery | Celebrating organ donation in North Adams
NORTH ADAMS — In February 2015, Glen Wiley was diagnosed with liver cancer and his outlook was bleak.
"I had no idea what was going to happen," he said. "I'm married, I had a 15-year-old. ... We were all devastated."
But on Nov. 14, he received a liver transplant that saved his life.
"If it wasn't for the generosity of someone checking that box to say 'Yes, I will be an organ donor,' I probably wouldn't be standing here talking with you now. Thousands of people die waiting for organs."
Wiley now volunteers to share his story with the New England Organ Bank, which hosted state and local leaders at North Adams City Hall on Tuesday afternoon to advocate for participation in organ donation and address some of the misconceptions surrounding it.
Many people wrongly believe they are too old to become organ donors, said Matthew Boger of the New England Donor Bank, or incorrectly believe that signing up could impact the level of care they receive in a life-or-death situation. Though surveys indicate 90 percent of the public supports organ donation, far fewer sign up to become organ donors.
As Wiley pointed out, it is far more common to need an organ donation than to ever become an organ donor — but a person eligible for organ donation can save up to eight lives.
"Organ donation is very rare," Boger said. "There were only 268 cases last year where an individual was able to become an organ donor."
Denis Swistak, another volunteer, received a liver transplant in 2014 after suffering through liver disease that left her unable to work or even think clearly for more than a year, due to toxins infiltrating her blood while her liver was out of commission.
"When this woman told me that she had a liver for me, and asked me how soon I could get to the hospital, my response was 'I don't even like liver, what are you talking about?' "
But Swistak underwent the procedure and was out of the hospital in two weeks.
"A man from Oklahoma saved my life. I'll never know him," he said. "I will be forever connected with that family in Oklahoma."
The donation has given Swistak two and a half years of life that she would not have otherwise had.
In Massachusetts, the vast majority of organ donors elect to participate when prompted by the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
"A simple question can change someone's life for the better, said Erin Deveney, registrar for the state RMV, who was on hand for Tuesday's event.
For Wiley, that question extended his life.
"Myself, my family, all of our friends will be forever thankful to that person for checking that box," Wiley said.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376