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New Organ Donor Push Aims To Include Kentuckians In Addiction Recovery


Carrie Parsley’s 22-year-old daughter Veronica Jecker died from a drug overdose almost two years ago. It was devastating for Parsley; she knew Veronica had addiction issues with prescription opioids, but not heroin.

“The very first time I ever heard my daughter's name and heroin was when we got to the hospital,” Parsley said.

Veronica had signed up to be an organ donor four years prior.

“I remember the conversation that I had with her that day, when she was more excited that she became an organ donor than anything in a long time,” Parsley said.

And while Parsley was hesitant at first about her daughter's organs going to others, those donations ended up exemplifying the kind of person her daughter was: kind, caring and giving.

When she died, Parsley said Veronica’s organs went to three people, saving their lives.

Parsley spoke on Tuesday at an event kicking off a Volunteers of America and Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates campaign to get more people signed up to donate — including people struggling with addiction.

Because of Veronica's drug usage, Parsley didn’t think her daughter’s organs would be viable at first.

“I'm like, but she's been doing drugs, she's got drugs, you know in her system,” Parsley said.

That’s a big misconception, but in fact about 18 percent of hearts recovered for organ transplants were from people who died of drug overdoses in 2017, according to KODA Chief Clinical Officer Brian Roe.

“You may be surprised that people with a variety of medical issues can become donors, including those that have had a past history of drug usage or serious medical conditions such as HIV or Hepatitis C,” Roe said. “We run many tests to ensure the safety to those recipients.”

Since Volunteers of America runs drug recovery programs, President and CEO Jennifer Hancock said they will encourage clients in recovery, as well as staff and donors, to sign up.

“We want our clients who are working to become healthy and sober and beginning new lives to consider joining the registry,” Hancock said. “It's just one more sign that they're making new and positive changes and that they're thinking of ways to give back that they're hopeful about a full life ahead.”

The partnership also comes as the renewal period for Kentucky driver’s licenses is about to double — from every four years to every eight years. Hancock said that means there will be half as many people who will come in to renew licenses and potentially sign up to donate organs.

People that want to sign up to be organ donors can also do so online, after creating an account on the Kentucky Online Gateway. That’s because of legislation passed this session that created a way for Kentuckians to sign up online and not just while renewing a license.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.

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