Organ donation is probably the furthest thing from your mind … unless you’re on a wait list for an organ replacement. Then it becomes literally a matter of life and death.
Two staff memebers at Homer-Center High School, biology teacher Lisa Adams and special education teacher Cindy Scott, turned their story into an opportunity to create a school full of heroes: Homer’s Heroes.
Organ donation gets real
For the past three years, Scott has been on the kidney transplant list awaiting a donation. Adams has been tested to see if she could be a match for her friend. It turns out she isn't, but she decided to donate a kidney anyway.
“Being the wonderful person that she is, Lisa donated to a stranger,” Scott says.
Throughout this process, Scott and Adams learned about the Organ Tissue and Donation Awareness (OTDA) grant. They decided to apply and use the funds to further organ donation awareness with Homer-Center students.
It was a good match. Homer-Center is a small school with about 450 students between seventh and 12th grades, and all know about Scott’s plight and Adam’s generosity.
Scott and Adams received the grant and started educating students for the 2017-18 academic year. They started by placing photos of individuals in the school community — teachers, lunch staff, students, administrators, maintenance — anyone who pledged to be an organ donor, on a wall in the school's lobby. Students under 14 who weren’t old enough to agree to be a donor had the option to make a pledge to one day do so.
Committing to raising awareness about organ donation was part of the requirement for receiving the grant. Scott and Adams talked about the extreme need for organ donors and dispelled any myths. Many students were surprised to learn that organ transplant also included tissue, bones and corneas. There was even an OTDA Christmas Extravaganza, where students played “Wheel of Misfortune,” Hasbro’s "Operation" and organ cornhole.
“I work with a lot of 16- and 17-year-olds who proudly show me their driver’s license and tell me, ‘Mrs. Scott, I’m an organ donor!’” Scott says.
The capstone event was the OTDA symposium. In 2018, education was the focus. Students heard from a Adams and a transplant surgeon. The biggest hit was the distance learning session where a pathologist prepped, opened and conducted an autopsy on a cadaver while students watched and asked questions via a live video feed.
The health connection
For the 2018-2019 academic year, Scott and Adams followed a similar formula. This time, however, they are emphasizing health and wellness.
“We hope students learn at a young age how to make good health decisions going into adulthood,” Adams says. “We want them to minimize the likelihood of needing an organ transplant, or be able to pass on healthy organs to someone else.”
Last year’s experience with the cadaver allowed students to witness how health looks on the inside. The pathologist explained how layers of fat impact the body, and the difference between healthy and diseased organs.
This year’s symposium will give students a chance to actively engage in activities that will make them healthier. Five guests will speak for about 30 minutes at different stations. Students will rotate through each station and participate in various activities and discussions.
Students will practice gentle yoga and learn about its benefits.
A dietician will discuss healthy eating and have students make and eat a healthy snack.
Students will learn self-massage techniques along with the benefits of massage.
A representative from the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) will run a discussion session.
Students will learn that mental health is equally as important as physical health and gain some self-help techniques to relieve anxiety.
Finally, Life Skills students will prepare a healthy chicken salad, free of charge. Homer-Center plans to invite all the schools in Indiana County to attend.
“There are nine districts and it’s their choice on which group to send,” Scott says. “It could be AP biology, health career club or the student council. It’s open to anyone.”