It doesn’t take long into a conversation with Dan Griffin for him to ask one question: “Are you an organ donor?”

The Elba man isn’t shy about inquiring. He knows first-hand how a life can be changed by a person who does make the decision to donate their organs.

Three years ago, Griffin received a new heart from Sarah Root, a 21-year-old woman who died after being hit by a drunk driver in Omaha just hours after she graduated from Bellevue University.

Griffin was on the waiting list for a heart for a year until receiving a telephone call telling him and his wife, Peggy, that one was available. The call came during a blizzard. The couple traveled from Elba to Omaha with the help of emergency workers and snow plow drivers who cleared a path for them to make it to their destination.

Today, the 64-year-old man shares his story to educate people about the importance of organ donors. He and Peggy spoke about that on Friday at CHI Health St. Francis during a tribute to organ and tissue donors and their families.

“Organ tissue and eye transplants offer patients a new chance at healthy, productive, normal lives. It returns them to their families, their friends and their communities. It truly is an exponential gift in the lives it does touch,” said Betsy Collins-Clark, a donation services specialist with Live On Nebraska.

On average, there are more than 100,000 Americans waiting for an organ transplant. A single tissue donor can help more than 75 people.

The hospital event was attended by about 40 people, including Rhonda Smith of Milligan.

Her brother, Steven Cochran, passed away in November from a heart attack. His organs and body were donated. It was a way for him to continue to give to others.

“It didn’t matter if he knew you or not, he wanted to help,” Smith said.

She hadn’t been registered to be an organ donor before, but over the last few months she has changed her mind.

“I always thought about it but I wasn’t really aware of how many people are waiting for organs and cells and tissues until this came about,” she said.

In Griffin’s case, he suffered a massive heart attack 18 years prior to his transplant while he was driving a semi. About five years ago, he had a device implanted into him to help pump blood through his body because his heart was failing.

It was in February of 2016 when he had his transplant.

About two-and-a-half years later, the Griffins were able to meet with the family of his donor on Dan’s birthday.

“I wanted to meet the family. I was hesitant at first because I wanted to make sure that was what I needed to do. Then I realized that it wasn’t just me. It was about them too,” Griffin said.

The couple called meeting the Root family an unbelievable experience. Family members took turns using a stethoscope to listen to Sarah’s heart beat in Dan’s chest.

Griffin said he initially struggled with being added to the list for a new heart knowing that someone would have to die in order for him to receive the gift he needed. A health care worker helped put him at ease.

“I had one of my radiologists look me straight in the face and tell me that it’s the only way God has to get me a new heart,” he said.

Griffin said his story is just one example of how lives change and go on because of organ donors.

Both he and his wife urged others to think of those awaiting a transplant.

“Please, if you’re not a donor, get registered,” Peggy Griffin said.

To register to become an organ, eye and tissue donor, go to RegisterMe.org.

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