Donate Life! Month kicks off

“I would like to thank everyone who has become an organ donor and let them know—don’t stop being a hero, keep giving [those in need of a transplant] a second chance at life,” said 10-year-old Ian Fitch of Lake in the Hills at a press conference April 9 at the Zeke Giorgi Building in downtown Rockford.

Fitch was joined by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Rockford Mayor Doug Scott in unveiling the state’s campaign to raise awareness for the state’s organ and tissue donor program during April, which is National Donate Life! Month.

“More than 290 people died in Illinois last year while waiting for transplants,” White said. “Let’s give others a second chance at life by signing up to be an organ and tissue donor. One person can provide life or improved quality of life for 50 people.”

Fitch is featured in a new organ donor television commercial that will air on television and in movie theaters throughout the state as part of National Donate Life! Month,a nationwide event recognizing the importance of organ, tissue and blood donation.

In the 60-second commercial featuring the song He’s My Son by Mark Schultz, Ian says: “Just because you don’t wear a costume, you can still be a hero. After I get my liver, I will feel like I am free, normal, alive.”

Fitch was born with biliary atresia, a rare bile duct disorder that occurs in about one in 15,000 babies. The disease creates inflammation and blockage of the bile duct.

According to the Children’s Liver Association for Support Services Web site: “A network of tubular structures and tiny ducts form the biliary system to drain bile from the liver to the small intestine where it aids in the digestive process. Biliary atresia is the closure or disappearance of the biliary system.”

John Fitch, Ian’s father, said doctors have restructured the tubular structures and ducts within the biliary system with parts of Ian’s small intestine. Yet, he said, Ian’s liver is “slowly but surely scarring,” and Ian is in need of a liver transplant.

While in Rockford, White also dropped the first puck at the IceHogs game April 9, and the first 1,000 people at the gates received a children’s hockey jersey promoting National Donate Life! Month.

Although Illinois has the largest donor registry in the country, approximately 5,000 people in Illinois are on a waiting list for a transplant. More than 83,000 people nationwide are waiting for a transplant, and 17 people die every day while waiting for a transplant that never comes.

In Illinois, race is often the largest barrier in finding organ donors. African-Americans and Hispanics are over-represented on waiting lists but are under-represented as potential donors.

How to become an organ donor

Following are three ways to become an organ donor in Illinois:

1. Sign the back of your Illinois driver’s license or ID card right on the plastic and have it witnessed by two people.

2. Discuss the issue with your family because donation cannot occur without next-of-kin consent.

3. Join the state registry. If you agree to be a donor when you visit a driver’s facility, you will automatically be listed in the state’s Organ Donor Registry, one of a handful in the country. To join at another time, call 1-800-210-2106, write to the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office, or register online at

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