Spare-Parts Department

Desperately seeking organ donors  
By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  December 17, 2008

The family of a two-and-a-half-year-old Gloucester boy hopes that a new bill, filed in the State Senate by North Shore state senator Bruce Tarr on Monday, December 15, will prompt increased participation in organ donation, especially pediatric organs.

"Jackson's Bill" is named for Jackson Altieri, who has been affected by a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (try saying that five times fast, especially when you're a toddler) since he was an infant, and had to wait a year for a much-needed heart transplant, due to the lack of available organs suitable for a child. Frustrated by the endless waiting for the "Congratulations! Your son has won a heart!" phone call, Jackson's family was moved to develop legislation designed to improve the odds for would-be transplant recipients. Jackson's Bill proposes new strategies to increase pediatric organ donation, to establish more resources about pediatric organ donation in conjuncture with the New England Organ Bank, and to require organ-donor information on all license-registration renewals sent out by the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

"One of the things we learned as a family was that it's a long wait when you need an organ," says Fran Aliberte, Jackson's grandfather. "There aren't enough to go around. We came up with the idea to look at the Massachusetts organ-donation laws, and it turns out that they hadn't been revisited in a long time. The only time you're presented with an opportunity to donate is when you get your driver's license or renew it, so we're broadening the opportunities for people to sign up to be donors."

According to a statement released by State Senator Tarr, Massachusetts's organ-donor rates — currently around 39 percent of licensed Massachusetts drivers — are much lower than other states'.

"Massachusetts is at the top in education," says Aliberte. "We have the best hospitals. In terms of things that matter in life — research, medicine, education — Massachusetts is it. And yet, we're at the lower end of the middle when it comes to organ donation. It just doesn't make sense."

For more information on how to register yourself or your child as an organ donor, visit the New England Organ Bank Web site at

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