September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

A Free Online Resources for Teaching About Organ, Eye & Tissue Donation

Posted: Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Patty Ladegaard, Donate Life California

A rite of passage for many high school students is applying for their first driver license or identification (ID) card from the California DMV. When doing so, students will be asked if they would like to join the state organ, eye and tissue donor registry. If they check “yes” a pink “DONOR” dot will be printed on their driver license to indicate their wishes. But how do teens get the information they need to make an informed decision about organ donation? When students study organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation in school, they are able to make a decision about organ donation based on scientific information and fact, rather than myth and folklore. It also allows them an opportunity to discuss the topic with family prior to visiting the DMV.

The study of the science behind organ donation and transplantation supports and provides opportunity to build on several key ideas in the life sciences, including functions at the organism system level; the body as a system of multiple interacting subsystems; genetics and DNA; immunology; medical treatments and solutions; uses for stem cells; and the effect of environmental and lifestyle choices on the human body. The topic can also be tied into the Crosscutting Concepts of structure and function; systems and system models; and cause and effect.

There is another reason to teach about organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation: students can come to understand that one person’s act of generosity in the form of organ or tissue donation can have a profound ripple effect in a family and a community. Students also have the opportunity to learn that something positive can come from tragedy. The topic is easy to understand and appeals to students’ youthful altruism.

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To provide teachers of high school and middle school health and science classes with teaching resources and accurate information about organ, eye and tissue donation, an education program was developed by Donate Life California, California’s nonprofit organ, eye and tissue donor registry. The program, available for download at no cost, incorporates lessons and activities that guide students through these important concepts: why organ donation is needed; what organs and tissues can be donated; understanding brain death; the organ donation process; and correcting myths and misconceptions.

The education program consists of four components which may be used individually or as a package:

  • The Educator Resource Guide contains seven lesson plans that address basic donation facts, the donation process, and brain death. An Interactive Body Tour identifies the organs and tissues in the body, describes their function, and notes what can be donated.
  • The “Your Decision to Donate” film is designed for and features high school students. The 11-minute video provides an overview of organ donation and shares stories of teens touched by donation.
  • Informational resources correct common donation myths and put a face on donation through personal stories about organ donors and transplant recipients.
  • The classroom presentation program offers trained speakers who work in the donation/transplant field and/or have a personal connection to the transplant community. Presentations can be tailored to class size and area of interest, and can be either clinical or high level in nature.
Ayanna Anderson, Donate Life Ambassador, speaks to students at Balboa High School about organ, eye and tissue donation as part of a Donate Life California classroom presentation offered free to high schools and middle schools.

Ayanna Anderson, Donate Life Ambassador, speaks to students at Balboa High School about organ, eye and tissue donation as part of a Donate Life California classroom presentation offered free to high schools and middle schools.

The Donate Life California education program was created following the passing of California Assembly Bill (AB) 1967 (Pérez, 2012) which requires the inclusion of organ, eye and tissue donation in the next revision of the Science Framework and Health Framework as part of the science and health curriculum. Since the launch of the program in 2013, more than 60,000 students across California have received a classroom presentation. These students are now able to do some educating of their own by correcting the myths and misconceptions that deter some from joining the donor registry.

Each year, more than 3,000 Californians are saved through organ donation and thousands others benefit from the gift of tissue in the form of ligaments, heart valves, bone and skin. There are more than 120,000 people in the U.S. waiting for an organ transplant. It’s likely that there are students or co-workers in your school who have a family member or friend who has been touched by donation or transplant. Danielle Delgado, a high school student in San Diego is one of those students. She received her life-saving liver transplant at just nine months old. Now she is active in school, plays field hockey, writes, draws, and sings in a women’s choir. Judy Regnier’s six grandchildren know she wouldn’t be alive had she not received a liver in 1998 from an anonymous man who said “yes” to joining the organ, eye and tissue donor registry.

Because organ donation and transplantation also affects children, Donate Life California has also created an age-appropriate Q&A to guide educators, parents and other adults in a conversation with younger children. The information is presented in a brief and simple manner, highlighting the messages of generosity and sharing that make organ transplants possible.

Teaching students about the science and medicine of organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation in health and science classes allows them to make an educated decision – with family input – about joining the state registry so that when the time comes to visit the DMV, they are prepared not only for their driver test, but understand what it means to have the pink “DONOR” dot on their driver license.

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Patty Ladegaard is the Program Coordinator for Donate Life California, and can be reached at patty@donatelifecalifornia.org, or 619-563-5138.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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