New Jersey has set a new record for organ donations in 2020 with 222 people giving the gift of life, an 8% increase over 2019's record of 206 donors.

Joe Roth, president and CEO of the NJ Sharing Network, thanks the generous donors as well as the health care workers who put their lives on the line during the pandemic to make this happen.

Due to COVID-19, Roth said there were not as many in-person events in 2020 to help raise awareness about organ donation. So they had to move to virtual events that allowed partners and volunteers to share their uplifting stories and messages. Because of that, he said, the outreach activities helped generate a 14% increase in the New Jersey registrations on the National Donor Registry in 2020.

In November, Newark, Jersey City, Edison, Cherry Hill and Mount Laurel were among the Top 10 highest in the country for registrations for the National Donor Registry.

COVID-19 placed restrictions on organ donation and transplantation throughout the country, especially in New Jersey where many hospitals were forced to temporarily suspend routine medical care, elective surgeries and transplant activity in April and May.

He said there was a lot of concern about making sure that donors tested negative for COVID-19 so some transplant centers were hesitant to travel to New Jersey, acquire those organs and take them back to their centers.

Despite the pandemic, the NJ Sharing Network never closed or ceased operations during the height of the pandemic.

Last year, 572 organs were transplanted from New Jersey donors.

"Kidneys are the most commonly donated organ and it's also the largest waiting list for transplants. So in 2020, we recovered 339 kidneys for transplant, 124 livers, 50 hearts, 45 lungs and 14 pancreases," said Roth.

In addition, 46,462 tissue and eye donations helped recipients. Tissue donations include eye corneas, heart valves, skin grafts and bone grafts, ligament and tendons.

Roth said it's important to become an organ donor because in New Jersey, nearly 4,000 people are on the organ transplant waiting list and one person dies every three days waiting for a transplant. A single organ donor can save up to eight lives and one tissue donor can enhance the lives of at least 75 people.

Interested organ donors can register at Roth recommends that donors inform their family about their intentions so they are not surprised when the time comes.

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