How Organ Donation Changed Matt Thomas's Life
Updated: Mar 17
Q&A with SODA Chapter Leader Matt Thomas
Compiled by Shari Deeken
Please summarize your background and intended career.
I am from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and am a junior at West Virginia University (WVU). I am studying Management Information Systems with a minor in Accounting. Currently, I have an internship for the summer with Ernst & Young as a Technology Risk Advisor. Although I am not 100% sure what I want to do with my career yet, I know that I want to do something where I have the opportunity to give back and help others every day!
What is your role with SODA?
I serve as the President of the SODA WVU Chapter. In this role, I oversee all projects that our team is working on while ensuring that we maximize our potential to advocate for organ donation.
Please explain whether your SODA participation is contributing to your future career path and how, or if it is instead a passion of yours.
My SODA participation is both contributing to my future career path while also being a strong passion of mine. While this role is my first leadership role, I am able to learn what it takes to be a leader and run a team. It has been really easy to lead our team because we made sure to pick a group of students who shared the same passion for organ donation as us.
Why are you passionate about organ donor education and registration?
Having first-hand experience of how organ donation can affect someone’s life makes it easy to have a passion for it. Coming to college and not being able to find anything that promotes organ donation was really shocking to me. Being able to show students what it truly means to be an organ donor and how easy it is to sign up could make the difference in so many lives being saved.
How did you become interested in organ donor education and registration? Do you have any personal story to tell?
I have been interested in organ donation education and registration ever since I found out what it was when I was young. My father wouldn’t be with us today if it wasn’t for organ donation. My dad is a three-time transplant recipient, including two kidneys and a liver. I was too young to understand what was going on when he had his first kidney transplant, but the first kidney was donated by my uncle. It got so bad that the nurses told my mom to get my brother, who was in college at the time, back home to say his final goodbyes. Our prayer was answered on October 10th, 2015 as we got the call that he would be getting a new liver!
The transplant was a great success and a couple years went by with no issues. After a while the doctors started to notice his kidney numbers starting to get worse, and it got to the point when they said he would need another kidney to stay alive. My amazing mother didn’t think twice to get tested and she was miraculously a match. The date was all set and my parents were ready to go, only this time my mom wouldn’t be by my dad’s side through it all because she was in the hospital bed next to him. With my older brother on spring break, it was time for me to step up and support both of my parents while taking care of my younger sister.
This first-hand experience of seeing my dad lay there sick in a bed one day then walking laps around the hall the next day really gave me a passion for organ donation that is second to none. To sum all this up, my mother, my uncle, and the amazing organ donor who passed away all contributed to keep my dad alive, and to truly learn what heroes organ donors truly are.
How did you learn about SODA?
Anna Gunter, SODA WVU’s Co-founder and Vice President, and I were discussing how we wanted to start an organ donation club that educates college students. The biggest problem we had was choosing a name. We did our research and Anna thought of this great name called Student Organ Donation Advocates, or SODA for short. After a while we realized that this name was taken by a national organization. We looked more into it and learned the amazing story about Sara Miller and her family and it seemed like the perfect fit for us to bring SODA to West Virginia University.
What do you enjoy the most about being a part of SODA?
What I enjoy most about being a part of SODA is building lifelong friendships with all our members, while continuing SODA’s lifesaving work.
What do you find most challenging in your role?
The most challenging part of this role is finding the right approach to discussing organ
donation with college students. With such a diverse campus, everyone has a different background and belief system, so figuring out how to get people interested in talking about organ donation has been challenging. To overcome this, we are planning several different events that can relate to a variety of people.
What is your personal vision for SODA?
My personal vision for SODA is for people to not look at us as an organization that is just promoting organ donation, but one that is saving lives.
For SODA WVU, we decided to heavily recruit underclassmen to ensure that the organization will be carried on and with people who understand what we are all about.
When I graduate, I hope to join the SODA National Leadership Team and continue to contribute to our life-saving mission!
Why should someone launch a SODA Chapter at their college or high school campus, or become a part of a Chapter?
I believe someone should start or join a chapter because SODA is an organization that gives you an opportunity to really make a difference in your high school and /or college career. The work that SODA is doing is lifesaving and there aren't many other organizations that will give you this opportunity.
Learn more about how to start a chapter here.