2016 marked a record number of organ and tissue donors in Mississippi and the number of lifesaving organs transplanted from those selfless individuals and their families that said ‘yes’ to giving the Gift of Life.

In 2016, Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency (MORA) recovered 262 organs from a record 88 donors and also facilitated the wishes of 267 tissue donors. The organs transplanted saved lives, not only in Mississippi, but across the country. The tissues donated are being utilized by over 20 Mississippi hospitals, but also saves and heals thousands of lives across the country.

Kevin Stump, Chief Executive Officer of MORA, says that the growth of organ and tissue donation in the state is based on many factors, but mostly built on the charitable nature of Mississippians. “Simply put, people in Mississippi care about others,” said Stump, who is in his 23rd year as the leader of MORA. “That statement is never truer than when you are talking about someone who gave selflessly of themselves to save the lives of others or of their family that ultimately made the decision for their loved one to be a donor in their darkest moment.”

Brad Fitzgerald of McComb, MS knows firsthand about the caring nature of Mississippians. Having dealt with a heart problem since 1999, Fitzgerald was put on a transplant waiting list in 2015. Early in 2016 he received the call that he would receive a new heart, a heart from a fellow Mississippian. “You experience about 10 different emotions you experience in about ten seconds. You’re happy, but you’re sad. All the time that I was on the list I was dealing with the fact that someone was going to die for me to get better. There are a lot of emotions you go through on that list and helplessness is one of them. When that help comes, it is one of those things you can’t believe that it happened.”

It happened because someone signed up to be a donor or the family of a donor said ‘yes’ to donation. “I’m sure they can’t grasp how they are going to help someone else, just like I can’t grasp the loss that they are going through,” added Fitzgerald.

The record number of organ transplants in Mississippi was reflective of a national trend. Organ transplants performed in the United States in 2016 reached a new record high for the fourth consecutive year, according to preliminary data from United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). For the year, 33,606 transplants were reported, representing an 8.5 percent increase over the 2015 total and an increase of 19.8 percent since 2012.

Just as transplants were at an all-time high nationally, the University of Mississippi Medical Center set its own record in 2016, transplanting over 210 organs into 197 patients. Sixteen of those procedures occurred over one seven-day period in October.

With over 120,000 Americans on a national waiting list, Fitzgerald sees the record numbers for donation in 2016 as a sign of hope for those waiting. “Whether they were getting their driver’s license done and said, ‘I can do something to help someone when that time comes or whether their family had to make that decision it touches people more than they can understand. They are life givers.”

To register as an organ, eye and tissue donor go to www.donatelifems.org.