Hanna Treter recalls vividly the question asked by the clerk at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles – “Do you want to be an organ donor?”
The teen, anxious to become a licensed driver, turned around and looked at her dad, asking “What do I do?” “I never understood the importance of it,” said Hanna, who is now 19. “When my dad suggested I register to be a donor, I didn’t think much about it.”
In just the few years since the day at the BMV, the Woodville teen has become an avid advocate for organ donation. It’s a passion born of heartache.
She hit rock bottom, she said, after two good friends passed away when she was in high school. Last year, her cousin’s 5-year-old son died while waiting for a heart transplant.
Little Harrison Mack, a sweet, gentle and loving little boy who loved to paint, color, play video games and play with his three brothers stole the heart of Hanna and everyone he met.
Born with a heart disorder, he was placed on the transplant list and was scheduled for ventricle surgery when he developed a strep infection.
“It was going to be a really risky surgery but they were going to go ahead and try it,” Hanna said. “He got strep throat and got really sick, which damaged his immune system. He was forced to go on a ventilator. Eventually, his lungs and kidneys and lungs stopped functioning and his blood pressure dropped really low.
“His parents made the difficult decision to remove life support and he died on April 9, 2011,” she said.
At the time of his death, a fundraiser dubbed “Hearts for Harrison” was scheduled to be held at Interstate Lanes in Rossford.
At the event, which raised over $50,000 to help the Mack family with Harrison’s medical expenses, Hanna struck up a conversation with Jamie Adams, a representative of Life Connection of Ohio, an agency that serves as the organ procurement organization (OPO) for northwest and west central Ohio.
“I told her that information about organ donation needs to get out more and that it would be really awesome if she would come and talk at my school,” Hanna said. “She said, ‘Ironically, that’s what I do.’”
Shortly after, Hanna discussed the suggestion with her biology teacher at Woodmore High School, where she was a senior.
“My teacher knew everything that was going on with Harrison,” she said. “I told him it would mean the world to me if we could have these people come in, just so people know, and we arranged for Jamie to come in to talk to the science classes.
“My teacher asked if I would feel comfortable speaking to the classes about Harrison’s story,” Hanna said. “So I did, and that’s how I started volunteering.”
Since then, Hanna has represented Life Connection in schools, at fairs and festivals and other community events.
“I love volunteering with Life Connection. It’s very gratifying to know I’m making a difference by explaining the importance of organ donation,” she said.
“I feel it’s a way not just to keep Harrison’s memory and story alive, but also to spare another family from losing a loved one who dies waiting for an organ transplant.
“I connect with students, I think, because I’m not some adult just preaching to them,” she said. “I have a different point of view because I’m younger and I have a personal story to tell.
“Harrison’s passing not only changed my life, but also my career path,” she said. “I was planning to go into cosmetology, but now I’m hoping to pursue a career in social work and work in a children’s hospital.”
“Hanna is a wonderful example of what you can do to turn something tragic into something positive,” said Kara Steele, Life Connection’s director of community relations.
Statistics show that the organ shortage rate continues to grow at a staggering rate as approximately every 10 minutes, another person is added to the National Transplant Waiting List. In Ohio alone, more than 3,400 patients are waiting for organ transplants.
On May 1, Facebook added the ability for its 800 million members to share their donor status with friends and family, and to link to state registers to officially become donors.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said on “Good Morning America,” said the organ donation initiative was inspired by disasters such as last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the social network’s role in keeping people connected. He also cited his girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, who is studying to become a pediatrician.
Steele said the campaign created a spike of registered donors in Ohio. “Usually we average fewer than 50 donor registrations online every day in Ohio,” she said. “On May 1, the first day of the Facebook campaign launched, there were 241 online registrations. May 2 saw 232.”
“I think one of the really great things about Facebook is that it gets conversations started in an informal way,” Steele said.
To register as a donor or share a personal story about organ donation, go to the Facebook timeline profile, go to ‘Life Event,’ go to ‘Health and Wellness’ and then click ‘Organ Donor.” Ohioans can also sign up or get more information at donatelifeohio.org.
Inspired by the memory of 5-year-old Harrison Mack, the son of her cousin Kristan, Hanna Treter volunteers her time with Life Connection of Ohio, raising awareness about organ donation. Harrison died in 2011 while waiting for a heart transplant.