The Transplant Life Foundation
Evolving to meet the growing need for transplant support
AUG 22, 2017 AUTHOR BILL RYAN
Despite advances in medical technology and awareness about transplantation, the number of Americans signed up to be a tissue or organ donor continues to be dwarfed by the number of Americans in need of a transplant.1
Transplant Games of America organized the first Donate Life Transplant Games in 2011 with the sole mission of addressing this need by raising awareness about the life-restoring importance of organ, cornea, bone marrow and tissue donation. It chose to do this through a weeklong, multisport festival, held every two years.
The event involves the entire transplant community, from healthcare providers to recipients, donors and their families, with the aim of inspiring more people to sign up as donors.
Over the years, it has become one of the biggest transplant awareness events in the U.S., with the number of participants growing almost 30% year-on-year. The last Games attracted almost 5,000 registrations and 7–8,000 attendees.
As the Games have grown, the focus has broadened beyond raising awareness to offering support for people post-transplant. Reflecting this added function, future Games will be hosted by the newly named transplant-focused group: The Transplant Life Foundation – what was previously Transplant Games of America.
New name, new initiatives
“For us, the change seemed logical,” explained Bill Ryan, president and CEO of the Transplant Life Foundation. “Our mission is so much more than just putting on an event – we’re now providers of support to people affected by transplant across the country.”
Going hand in hand with a new name will be an expanded roster of initiatives, said Ryan, that will represent all facets of the Foundation’s aims.
One of these new initiatives is a magazine, entitled TransplantNATION, which will help disseminate information about the Foundation’s work, educate the public and, ultimately, invite more participation in the Games. Importantly, the new initiatives will not take away from the Transplant Games which will remain a top priority for the Foundation.
“The Games is how we earned our status as one of the biggest promoters of tissue and organ donation in America and we aim to keep growing its influence,” Ryan went on. “It has gathered more and more momentum with each Games and we want to keep that going. We’re shooting for 10,000 enlistees for the 2018 Games.”
Of course, although the name change seemed straightforward, following through with all the new actions has been a different matter. With more activities planned for promoting tissue and organ donation, more money and more bodies are needed to make the ideas a reality – a common problem for any foundation.
“The obstacles we face in rebranding are similar to the challenges we encountered as a new organization: how do we effectively communicate our objectives and efficiently address the needs of our stakeholders?” said Ryan.
To help overcome these obstacles, the Foundation plans to increase its fundraising and promotional activities. Thankfully, the organization has been working to build backing from the transplant industry, which will be a great resource for helping it to spread its message. In just six months, the Foundation has formed partnerships with the American Society of Transplantation, the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, Donate Life America, and the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations to help publicize its new brand and activities.
“The fact that we’ve got overwhelming support from other organizations in our field signifies the urgency of what we’re planning to do in our community,” Ryan commented. “It might be a bit tough for the first few months or so, but with the help of our partners, I think there’s enough demand to make this a success.”
Pushing for progress
The number of people signing up to a donor register has increased dramatically over the years. But, according to Ryan, there is still plenty of work to do. “Regardless of the progress we’ve made as a nation, the number of people on dialysis, for example, is almost 500,000,” he noted.2 “At the same time, over 118,000 Americans are on the national transplant waiting list.1
“We’re reminded every day of numbers like these that really emphasize how important our efforts are. We’re going to keep pushing as long as these numbers exist.”
The Foundation works with around a million advocates, but it is determined to keep that number growing through raising awareness until the need for organ and tissue donation becomes a thing of the past.
1Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, 2015. Need continues to grow. Accessed July 31, 2017. Available at: https://optn.transplant.hrsa.gov/need-continues-to-grow/
2National Kidney Foundation, 2016. End stage renal disease in the United States. Accessed July 31, 2017. Available at: https://www.kidney.org/news/newsroom/factsheets/End-Stage-Renal-Disease-in-the-US
Bill Ryan is President & CEO of The Transplant Life Foundation and serves on the board of directors for the West Michigan Sports Commission. Bill is also board chair of Ryan Marketing Group Technologies, an event project management company with over 27 years of experience on world class events including the NCAA Final Four ®, FINA World Swimming Championships, FIBA Men’s World Basketball Championships, World Cup Soccer, and the Solheim Cup. Bill’s involvement with donation and transplantation began in 1986 when his daughter Michelle passed away in an automobile accident. She was an ardent supporter of donation and transplantation and her legacy lives on through her generous gifts of life. Bill leads a team of professionals in producing the Donate Life Transplant Games, an event which brought 4,995 registrants and over 7,000 attendees to Cleveland in 2016. The Games are scheduled for August 2-7, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah.