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CEO Blog: LIFE Events in Full Swing

The approaching Labor Day weekend is a signal that summer is winding down, but some big Donate Life events are in full swing!

IsabelIzzyMartin.12 2508x1672

Heart recipient Izzy Martin as the Junior Announcer. Theme of the day: Be Kind. Be Giant. Be a Donor.

Just yesterday, Donor Network West cheered on the San Francisco Giants for Donate Life Day at AT&T Park. It was the 19th time the Orange and Black have highlighted the life-saving and healing power of organ and tissue donation. Heart recipient Izzy Martin was the Junior Announcer; double-lung recipient Isabel Stenzel Byrnes and heart recipient AJ Reyes served as Ball Dudes; and six-year-old Ailee Binauhan, a liver recipient at just six months old, kicked off the game as the Play Ball Kid.

Patricia & Eric at Padres 2016 edited

The Dodgers are taking on my home team, the San Diego Padres, for OneLegacy Ambassadors Night on Sept. 3 at Dodger Stadium. My wife, Patricia, and I cheered on the Padres at Lifesharing’s Donate Life Night at Petco Park in July.

Dodgers’ fans will see some green mixed in with their Dodger blue this Saturday when Dodger Stadium hosts OneLegacy Ambassadors Night. You don’t have to be a OneLegacy Ambassador (or even a Dodgers fan – Go Padres!) to attend. For more information and to buy tickets, go to Don’t forget to wear your blue and green!

If you’re in northern California, Donor Network West is hosting its 6th annual Donate Life Run/Walk next weekend on Saturday, Sept. 10 at Heather Farm Park in Walnut Creek. I’m lacing up my running shoes, so be sure to say “hi” as you pass me by on the course. All participants get a special “Be Fit. Be Strong. Be a Donor.” t-shirt and a participant medal. For more information and to register, go to

DNWest DLRW T-shirt 2016

Andrew Villar, a Donor Network West intern, flexes in his “Be Fit. Be Strong. Be a Donor.” t-shirt. All Sept. 10 run/walk registrants get one!

Each of these events, and the many more from our OPO partners throughout the year, serve multiple and very important purposes. They are great public awareness campaigns, especially at high-profile events like baseball games. Most people just are not aware that transplant recipients live and work among them. As we know, nothing inspires people to register to be donors more than hearing stories from transplant recipients and donor families!

These events are also fundraisers to support organ and tissue donation education and outreach efforts in places like local high schools, at DMVs, and in hospitals. We and our partners work throughout the year to reach as many people as we can to teach and show them why organ and tissue donation is so important – for individuals, families and their communities.

For DMV staff and OPO recovery and hospital transplant personnel who attend, these events allow them to see the benefits of their work. They get to step outside of their offices and hospitals to visit the donor families and recipients. These interactions reinvigorate their passion for the work they do to save, heal and transform lives.

Perhaps most meaningful is that these events help create a sense of community for donor families and recipients. It’s a unique support system where others share experiences much like their own. Donor families feel comfortable openly talking about their loved ones and the grief that comes with their loss. And, they get to share their pride in knowing their loved ones saved and healed lives. Recipients can also relate to each other and share their transplant challenges and triumphs and how their lives have changed. Both donor families and recipients gain new perspective in learning about the other side of the donation and transplant coin. Many times, they go home with a new sense of comfort and appreciation for their own and others’ donation and transplant journeys.

If you haven’t had a chance to attend a Donate Life event near you, we hope you’ll keep an eye on our Event Calendar and join us when you can.

In the meantime, have a safe and happy Labor Day weekend!

Eric Burch is CEO of Donate Life California, the state’s nonprofit organ, eye and tissue donor registry. His lifelong passion for healthcare began when he worked as an EMT his senior year in high school. With his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science and public administration from San Diego State University, Eric has worked in health-related government relations and public affairs. He’s also served on numerous boards and committees, including his current stint as a member of the Tri-City Healthcare District Governance and Legislative Committee. In his spare time, Eric is an adjunct professor at National University.

CEO Blog: What’s New?

DMV Director Jean Shiomoto and me with the commemorative plaque for her and her team.

DMV Director Jean Shiomoto and me with the commemorative plaque for her and her team.

Thank you DMV! Say it with me. Thank you DMV! Last week, we held a celebration and joint news conference with the DMV at their headquarters in Sacramento for our 10-year anniversary. Ten wonderful years of saving and healing lives together! In those ten years, registered organ, eye and tissue donors saved nearly 7,000 lives through organ donation and healed an estimated 600,000 more through tissue and cornea donation.

To show our thanks and appreciation for the DMV’s ongoing support and dedication to our mission, I was proud, on behalf of Donate Life California, to present Director Jean Shiomoto with a special commemorative plaque. Director Shiomoto and her team are ardent Donate Life supporters and we couldn’t be more grateful to them for all they do to ensure DMV customers have the opportunity to save and heal lives.

 (left to right) Director Shiomoto, me, Alfonso, Connie and Melissa

(left to right) DMV Director Jean Shiomoto, me, Alfonso Garcia, Connie Mays, Melissa Barragan

I also want to recognize those who shared their inspiring stories during our event. Liver recipient Alfonso Garcia and donor mom Connie Mays spoke about the young man who brought them together, George Becker. George is Connie’s son and Alfonso’s liver donor. Alfonso’s passion for life and his unending gratitude to George and Connie is unmistakable. He doesn’t take a moment of his life, or the gift George gave him, for granted. And Connie finds comfort in watching Alfonso honor her son by living his life in George’s memory.

One of the DMV’s own, Melissa Barragan also shared her story. She is one of the nearly 19,000 people in California who needs a life-saving kidney transplant. The single mother of two self-administers dialysis each night, leaving her very tired and weak. Her kids are her motivation to keep fighting and she has faith that she’ll be given a second chance at life so she can continue to provide for them and become the active mom she used to be. Stories like hers are what drive us each and every day to continue to inspire Californians to register as organ donors.

A big, big thank you to the DMV office of public affairs who were instrumental in putting together a successful news conference. A number of media outlets – TV, radio and print – helped us share our successes and inspiring stories with the public. Hearts and minds change when people learn the facts about organ, eye and tissue donation and hear how it has a positive impact on those touched by it. Case in point, after the news conference, several DMV employees, who before were unsure about registering to be donors, signed up on the spot! (Read more about our 10-year anniversary and our history with the DMV here.)

Now, on to what’s new in our organization. It is my delight to share with you the news that we have expanded our mission to enable us to touch even more Californians. Old mission: Donate Life California saves lives by inspiring people to sign up with the state organ, eye and tissue donor registry. New mission: Donate Life California saves lives by creating opportunities for all Californians to sign up on the official state organ, eye and tissue donor registry. This new mission reflects our growth and efforts to look for additional opportunities for people to register. It also emphasizes that we are the only OFFICIAL organ, eye and tissue donor registry in the state of California. Stay tuned as we work to carry out this enhanced mission.

dDinner_10 years

Patty with her cousin and living kidney donor Richard “Frog” Van Leeuwen. Patty is a two-time kidney recipient. Her mom was her first living donor.

One person who has played an integral role in the growth of Donate Life California over the past few years is Patty Ladegaard. Join me in congratulating her in her promotion from program coordinator to program manager! Patty has demonstrated exceptional abilities far beyond that of a coordinator. She has spearheaded the implementation of AB 1967, which ensures that organ, eye and tissue donation are included in the health and science curricula in California’s high schools. She also has taken on a leading role in the Workplace Partnership for Life (WPFL) hospital campaign sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The campaign encourages hospitals to conduct Donate Life activities – such as flag raisings and donor registration tables. For each activity, they’re awarded points that go toward a platinum, gold, silver or bronze level recognition. More than 100 hospitals have been recognized in each of the past two years of the campaign. Patty has managed these programs with great success and will continue to do so as we go forward.

It’s hard to believe it’s August already! Stay cool and enjoy the last few weeks of summer!

Eric Burch is CEO of Donate Life California, the state’s nonprofit organ, eye and tissue donor registry. Mr. Burch has more than 20 years of health care experience, with roles in both government relations and public affairs. At Tenet Healthcare, he oversaw political and legislative strategy as well as trade association relations for hospitals in four states. Mr. Burch held similar multi-state positions with the nation’s largest 911 ambulance provider, as well as a major health insurer. Most recently, Mr. Burch operated his own consulting firm using his experience to streamline clients’ business processes.

Mr. Burch has served on numerous boards and committees, including the United Hospital Association, several chambers of commerce and charitable organizations. He currently is a member of the Tri-City Healthcare District Governance and Legislative Committee and an adjunct professor at National University.

Mr. Burch holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in public administration from San Diego State University.

Donate Life California-DMV 10-Year Partnership Has Saved & Healed More Than 600,000 Lives

California Organ Donor Registrations Surpass 13.2 Million

DL-DMV-10SACRAMENTO, Calif., July 26, 2016 – Registered organ, eye and tissue donors in California have saved nearly 7,000 lives and helped heal an estimated 600,000 more people since Donate Life California and the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) became official partners 10 years ago.

The DMV began asking driver license and ID card customers if they wanted to join the state’s official Donate Life California Organ & Tissue Donor Registry on July 1, 2006. By the end of that year, one million people had signed up on the secure and confidential database. Today, more than 13.2 million Californians have registered their decision to be a life-saving donor – 95 percent through the DMV. The DMV adds about 20,000 new registrations each week.

“We do everything we can to honor the wishes of registered organ, eye and tissue donors,” said Monica Johnson, Donate Life California board president and executive director of Sierra Donor Services, the nonprofit organ and tissue recovery organization in Sacramento. “For families, it’s a comfort knowing their loved one’s wishes so they don’t have to wonder what their loved one’s choice would have been.”

“Less than one percent of people who die are able to save lives as an organ donor, so every registration is critical,” said Eric Burch, Donate Life California CEO. “The work we do with partners like the DMV is vitally important because the need is so great. Yet, only about 45 percent of Californians are registered donors – too many rule themselves out. You’re never too old to register and your medical history doesn’t necessarily effect your eligibility to be a donor.”

“The DMV is proud to be part of an organization that has helped save the lives of so many Californians,” said DMV Director Jean Shiomoto. “Our employees not only assist customers with signing up to become organ, eye, and tissue donors, but many of them are registered donors, and others are appreciative recipients. So, our partnership holds special meaning for us.”

More than 120,000 people in the U.S., including 22,000 in California, are on the organ transplant waiting list; nearly 1,100 Californians died waiting last year.

1505 Alfonso Garcia DLA and liver transplant recipient with picture of his donor, George Becker

Liver recipient Alfonso Garcia holds a photo of his donor, George Becker.

“I am one of the lucky ones. My donor registered at the DMV. If he hadn’t done that, I would not be alive today,” said Alfonso Garcia, a Bay Area liver recipient who graduated this spring from the University of San Francisco. “I think of George every day and live my life to honor his gift.”

Alfonso’s organ donor, Sacramento resident George Becker, signed up as an organ donor when he got his driver license at 16. George died at 22 from a sinus infection that reached his brain. As an organ donor, he saved three lives, including Alfonso’s. George’s mother is grateful that something good came out of her son’s sudden death.

1505 Alfonso Garcia DLA and liver transplant recipient with Connie Mays, holding picture of son and donor, George Becker

Connie Mays holds a photo of her son, George Becker, whose organs saved three people including liver recipient Alfonso Garcia (right).

“Seeing Alfonso become the young man he is thanks to my son’s selfless decision to register as an organ donor fills my heart,” said Connie Mays, George’s mother. “I am so grateful and so proud of George, and it’s wonderful to see how Alfonso honors my son.”

The DMV has supported organ donation since 1976 when it began issuing pink “DONOR” dot stickers and donor cards, which were considered symbols of intent only. In 2005, the online Donate Life California Registry was launched, phasing out donor cards and offering Californians an opportunity to give formal, legal consent for donation. The next year, the DMV became an official partner and, instead of issuing stickers, began printing the familiar pink “DONOR” dot on driver license and ID cards.

ShuShu family

Deborah Flores with her two sons. Xusha Brown (right) became an organ donor after he was the unintended victim of a drive-by shooting.

Deborah Flores of Spring Valley near San Diego says if her son had not registered as a donor at the DMV, she probably would have said no when asked about organ donation because she wouldn’t have known what he wanted. Xusha Brown, who went by ShuShu, was the unintended victim of a drive-by shooting on Interstate 8 in La Mesa in May 2013. He was just 22 years old.

“Losing a child is the worst thing a parent could ever experience,” said Deborah Flores, ShuShu’s mother. “But because he was a donor, the circle of life continues. Four lives were saved because my son was thinking of others. My son ended his journey here in this life with the best two titles to his name – donor and hero. Forever my hero.”

Jolene Vargas

Two-time kidney recipient Jolene Vargas.

Organ donation has allowed Jolene Vargas of Baldwin Park in the Los Angeles area to raise her son and take care of her stepdad, who suffered from dementia, after her mom passed away. A two-time kidney recipient, Jolene’s second donor registered at the DMV.

“I was a single mom and my son was just two years old when I was given three days to live. Now, more than twenty years and two transplants later, he’s a successful young man working with one of the world’s largest technology companies and I got the chance to take care of my dad when he needed me. I can’t thank my donors enough for that.”

Californians can register to be donors by checking “YES!” at the DMV or by signing up at

Fast Facts from Donate Life California:

  • California has the largest waiting list in the nation; the most deaths waiting; and the largest donor registry in the U.S. – yet, only about 45 percent of residents sign up here.
  • 85% of people are able to be tissue donors.
  • Less than 1% are able to be organ donors.
  • Last year, 953 Californians were organ donors.
  • Deceased donors saved the lives of 2,955 people in 2015 and 1,063 died waiting in our state.

For more information:

Photos & additional resources available at

Donate Life California
Brianne Mundy Page

California DMV

Bay Area: Noel Sánchez, Donor Network West

Los Angeles: Vanessa Schnaidt, Hershey Cause Communications
310-656-1001 ext. 105

Sacramento: Deanna Santana, Sierra Donor Services

San Diego: Sharon Ross, Lifesharing

About Donate Life California:
Donate Life California is the nonprofit, state-authorized organ, eye and tissue donor registry. Individuals can add their name to the registry by checking “YES!” every time they renew/apply for their driver license or ID card at the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This ensures their desire to donate life will be carried out. A pink “DONOR” dot is added to their driver license or ID as a symbol of their decision. Individuals can also sign up online at or As a public service, the registry ensures all personal information is kept confidential and stored in a secure database, accessible only to authorized organ and tissue recovery personnel at the time of an actual donation opportunity. The registry is administered by Donate Life California and California’s four nonprofit, federally designated organ procurement organizations (OPOs): Donor Network West, Lifesharing, OneLegacy and Sierra Donor Services.

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