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Talk about seizing a teachable moment.
What started out as a teacher wanting to help a fellow teacher by donating her kidney evolved into major organ donation programs in the Homer-Center School District, Indiana County.
Cindy Scott, a special education learning support teacher and vice president of the Homer-Center EA, has had kidney issues all her life. The day is approaching when she will need a new kidney and her colleague and friend, Lisa Adams, a science and biology teacher and EA president, wanted to be the one to donate.
“She kept asking and asking, but I was reluctant,’’ Scott said. “I’m a pretty independent woman, and I don’t like to ask anybody for anything.’’
Finally, she relented and the two went to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh for testing in February 2017. It was determined that Adams was not a match for Scott.
“But they mentioned a program in which I would be matched with a suitable donor, and when I donated Cindy would go to the top of the list for a donor when her time comes,’’ Adams said. “It’s sort of like a coupon or a voucher.’’
Adams went on the national registry, and in September 2017 she was notified of a 29-year-old man in Minnesota whose kidney functions were destroyed by a genetic condition.
The surgery was performed last January. Now, Cindy won’t be waiting in line when she needs her new kidney.
Recruiting future donors
Around the same time that Adams and Scott were being tested, they learned of the Center for Organ Recovery & Education in Pittsburgh. They took a group of students on a field trip to the center, known as CORE, where they heard from living organ recipients and donors.
“It was a very inspirational and moving experience,’’ Scott said.
They then learned of grants that were available from the $1 people may donate to the Governor Robert P. Casey Memorial Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Trust Fund when they renew their drivers’ licenses.
They applied and received a $3,400 grant, and they wasted no time putting the money toward organ donation education when the 2017-18 school year started last September.
They held a program for the seventh- through 12th-grade students at Homer-Center High School, where they teach, that included talks by an elementary teacher whose husband’s life was saved through organ donation, and the family of a Homer-Center student whose tissue was donated after he was killed in a car accident.
The teachers then created a “Homer’s Heroes’’ wall featuring pictures of community members and school district employees who sign up to be organ donors.
In November, Adams and Scott led the 10th-grade class on a field trip to CORE. They focused on sophomores because they are becoming legal drivers at that age and can become organ donors when they get their licenses.
A Christmas event gave students in grades seven to nine the opportunity to place their handprints on posters in hallways if they pledge to be organ donors when they get their drivers’ licenses.
This was all topped off by a symposium in March that included 100 Homer-Center students and 135 students from five Indiana County schools. The highlight was an online autopsy conducted on a cadaver at the University of Saint Louis Medical School to show what organs look like and what they do.
Through all of this, local radio stations and newspapers picked up the story and helped promote organ donation.
The friendship between Adams and Scott started 13 years ago, when they both arrived at Homer-Center during teaching careers that have spanned 19 and 22 years, respectively.
It’s a bit of an understatement to say a strong personal bond developed.
“I like to help people and to solve problems, and that is one reason I’m involved with the union,’’ Adams said. “This just all fit my personality.’’
Added Scott, “I feel blessed to have a colleague and a friend who was willing, basically, to have her body sliced open for me.’’