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Organ donor registry list in Michigan growing slower than ever

Five years ago, two-thirds of the state were signed up to be organ donors. Now, that number has dropped to 56% of residents.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Thousands in Michigan are currently waiting to be matched with an organ donor, some have been waiting for years.

According to information from the Michigan Secretary of State's office, there are around 2,400 adults on the organ waiting list in the state. Five years ago, two-thirds of the state were signed up to be organ donors. Now, that number has dropped to 56% of residents.

Until January, Pete Bottorff was on that list. When he got the call that a donor match was found, his wife says he cried.

"Well, yeah, wouldn't you?" he laughs.

After a two year wait, asking for help on a roadside sign, his wife's nephew turned out to be the perfect match.

"It was life changing for me," says Bottorff.

Two years is an unfortunately common length of time for adults needing organ donors. Dr. Jens Goebel, section chief of pediatric nephrology at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, believes it may be because of stricter eligibility requirements.

"A number of people who may want to be living donors won't be able to be living donors," he says.

Which can lead to an agonizing wait like Borttoff's.

"Some days, I didn't know what I was going to do, because, you know, I didn't feel good," recalls Borttoff. "And I knew that when the evening came up, I was going to have to go through that 10 hour dialysis every night just to survive."

Dr. Goebel, who works with kids in need of kidney donors, says donating is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

"It's a very rewarding experience to save somebody's life by being a living organ donor," says Dr. Goebel.

New methods have been created to boost donor totals, like paired donation.

"If I wanted to donate a kidney to a loved one of mine, or my neighbor or whatever, but we would not be a decent match, that wouldn't necessarily mean that there's a hard stop," says Dr. Goebel.

You can donate to a stranger, and the registry list will pair your recipient with a proper match.

While Borttoff's donor was a relative, he says it was the strangers who reached out that mean a lot to him.

"Those are the people who are really special," he says. "They don't know somebody, but they're going to try to help them out anyhow."

If you would like to learn more about becoming a living donor, you can begin the evaluation process for Helen DeVos Children's Hospital by clicking here.

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