published Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Tennessee: Need for donors stressed as thousands wait for organs

by Emily Bregel
Audio clip

Robin Burton

Just hours after her 15-year-old son was pronounced brain dead following a car accident, Robin Burton was faced with questions she’d never contemplated.

Three patients in other parts of the country were in need of organ transplants, and her son, Blake Levi, could save their lives, she was told by a representative from Tennessee Donor Services.

In the midst of her grief on that night at Erlanger hospital nearly 10 years ago, Mrs. Burton said she and her family knew that Blake would have wanted to help.

“We knew what a loving, free-spirited young man Blake was, and that he would want us to say ‘yes.’ By donating his organs, three families did not suffer the loss that we had to endure,” Mrs. Burton said Wednesday at a media event.


Visit or call 423-756-5736 to register as an organ donor.

Family members of organ donors and an organ recipient gathered at Erlanger to discuss the life-saving benefits of organ donation. The event was designed to bring attention to National Donate Life Month and spread the word about the enormous need for organ donors.

“The decision to donate is not an easy decision to make, especially during a tragic time,” Mrs. Burton said at the event. “I consider Blake, and all donors, heroes.”

About 100,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list and every day 18 of them die, said Dawn Benjamin, public education coordinator for Tennessee Donor Services.

In Tennessee alone, 2,000 people are on the organ transplant list, she said.

Chattanooga business owner Steve Aaron, a longtime diabetic, was diagnosed with kidney failure last summer. Mr. Aaron’s son Chris, 24, donated his kidney to his father in January, allowing his father to avoid a life dependent upon regular dialysis sessions to clean his blood. Both Mr. Aarons also spoke at the Erlanger event.

“It means a lot to save a life, especially your dad’s,” the younger Mr. Aaron said.

about Emily Bregel...

Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...

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