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My Organ Donation Advocacy Journey

Written by Sierra Pape, Student Engagement Intern


My name is Sierra Pape, and it is my pleasure to serve as the Student Engagement Intern at SODA: Student Organ Donation Advocates for almost three months now! In this role, I have the opportunity to engage with student advocates around the country and help with SODA’s day-to-day tasks.


I want to share why I am passionate about saving lives through student-led organ, eye, and tissue donation advocacy. 


Several years ago, my uncle received a heart transplant and enjoyed many more years of life. My minister was simultaneously on the waitlist but unfortunately did not receive an organ in time. This is when my family realized the importance of organ donation.  


And then, last year, as I filled out the form for my learner’s permit, it asked a simple question: “Do you want an organ donor displayed on your license?”, and I checked “Yes.” After returning from the DMV, I was curious if my peers had also signed up to be organ donors. As I talked to my friends and did research on the topic for a school paper, I learned that most high school students don’t know if they are signed up to be donors or not, let alone what it truly means to be an organ donor. 


I realized, that in order to increase organ donation rates across Georgia, my home state, we must increase education for youth about the U.S. organ donation and transplantation system, particularly before they visit the DMV for their driver's licenses and make the critical decision to become organ donors. 


Not long after, I came across an article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Senator John Albers of Georgia, who had donated his own kidney to his son in 2021. Following the donation, Senator Albers became a major national advocate for organ donation when he passed the Giving the Gift of Life Act, which protects potential organ donors from losing their life insurance coverage as well as incentivizes new donors by increasing the tax deduction available for organ donation. 


In awe of his dedication to organ donation advocacy, I sent Senator Albers an email with a proposal to pass a state-wide legislation that would mandate organ, eye, and tissue donation education in all public high schools. I was beyond grateful to receive a response and begin discussing possibilities. 


Over the next three months, Senator Albers and I met with legislators, educational leaders, and leaders at LifeLink Foundation (shoutout to Tracy Ide, Mallory Pettet, and Katie Payne!), my local Organ Procurement Organization, across the state. LifeLink graciously agreed to develop content materials—including information about the process to register in Georgia, misconceptions and facts about the Georgia system, and the impact that being an organ donor can have—for use in classrooms around the state. In a conversation with State Superintendent Richard Woods, Senator Albers proposed that we go ahead and present the content to the Georgia Department of Education’s board at their January meeting.


Shaking with excitement, I had the chance to share my story and the impact that organ donation has had on my life with the board. The Georgia Board of Education unanimously adopted the proposed health curriculum standards for the 2024-25 school year on January 11, 2024. A month later, surreally, I was able to speak on the State Senate floor alongside Senator Albers in celebration of National Donate Life Day. It was an honor to receive Senate Resolution 483


Sierra (first row, second from the right) celebrating National Donate Life Day on the State Senate floor


Today, almost 3,000 Georgians are waiting for an organ. The state of Georgia Medicare is spending almost $95,000 per person annually on each kidney patient on dialysis. Increased donor registration among youth would move the needle for organ, eye, and tissue donation in the state of Georgia, saving thousands of lives. 


I can attest to the fact that education about the organ donation and transplantation system allows students to make the correct, informed decisions for them personally. Incorporating this education into our curriculums will make a huge difference and prove that education saves lives.


I sincerely thank Senator Albers, Superintendent Woods, the State of Georgia Board of Education, and LifeLink for taking leadership roles in our nation and ensuring the lives of Georgians are a priority.  


It has been an honor to continue my advocacy efforts by founding and leading the SODA chapter at my high school, allowing me to continue educating and registering my peers and community. Thank you for your support of SODA and for everything SODA does to support student-led organ donation advocacy. Together in saving lives!!


Are you inspired by Sierra's story? Learn more about how you can get involved by starting a SODA chapter or hosting an event at sodanational.org/students.


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