Doctors told Debbie Pinjuv's family she had two weeks to live unless they could find a liver donor.
"The doctor came running down the hall yelling," she remembered. "'Are you Debbie from Reno? I've got your liver! It's from a young boy.'"
Now Pinjuv plays tennis, skis and works as executive director of The Transplant Network while assisting with the Nevada Organ and Tissue Donation Task Force.
"My life was saved by a 7-year-old," she said.
Pinjuv was one of the 50 organ and tissue donation advocates who gathered at the Legislative Buildingin Carson City on Friday in honor of National Donor Awareness Day.
Former Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa and Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, R-Reno, co-chairwomen of Nevada's Organ and Tissue Donation Task Force, were there to highlight the success of organ donation license plates made available last year.
"These specially designed license plates will help achieve the goal of alerting more Nevadan citizens to the overwhelming need for additional organ and tissue donors," said Del Papa. About 500 plates have sold for $35 more than the cost of regular registration fees.
The plates are one part of a plan to "get the word out," which has increased the number of Nevada drivers registered as donors from 5 percent last year to 32 percent.
"I do credit the task force and the education series," said Pinjuv, referring to school presentations the task force does. "But it's a joint effort with the DMV, legislators and the transplant community."
In the past year, a task force member's twin daughter, UNR student Emily Cornwall, received a heart transplant, task force member Erik Lauritzen received a kidney and another task force member died waiting for a lung transplant.
"It just never came in time," Pinjuv said.
Of the 80,000 people in need of a lifesaving organ transplant in the United States, 6,100 will die this year waiting for a suitable donor, according to task force reports. That's 11 transplant candidates who die waiting every day.
"The more we can get the message out to the general public about the vital importance of organ and tissue donation, the more we will be able to benefit people here in Nevada and throughout the U.S. who are in desperate need of a transplant," Gibbons said.
Gibbons is pushing two bills, AB3 and AB5, which both support organ donation efforts this session. AB3 would give state workers paid leave during organ donation procedures. AB51 would legitimize the "organ donor" stamp on a driver's license -- strengthening the wording used in previous legislation.
As the law reads today, hospital staff is often compelled to ask a donor's family before harvesting. The new law would allow staff to be able to inform the family that the donor's wishes were being carried out, according to Gibbons.
The donor task force is working with Sierra Eye & Tissue Donor Services on a dinner and reception fund-raiser April 11 at Harrah's Lake Tahoe. For information, call 324-4501.
ON THE NET
Nevada Donor Network: www.nvdonor.org/
The Transplant Network: www.thetransplantnetwork.com
The Living Bank: www.livingbank.org