Meet Pam Rapkin Silvestri, who served as public affairs director at Southwest Transplant Alliance. STA is a nonprofit organ and tissue donor program serving hospitals and patients throughout much of Texas. For two decades, Silvestri has spearheaded the lifesaving efforts to enourage people to register as donors, maintained the state donor registry and arranged scores of media interviews to highlight positive examples of organ donation. Founded in 1974, STA is one of the largest of 58 federally designed organ procurement organizations in the U.S. Recently, Silvestri proved she is willing to walk the walk when she became a living organ donor.
It was just this month, Silvestri set aside her duties at STA to pursue personal interests. She is an avid cyclist and now arranges cycling trips abroad. When she isn't on her bike, she is walking her dogs. We wanted to know more about Silvestri and STA and she was kind enough to answer a few questions:
Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Southwest Transplant Alliance.
Pam Rapkin Silvestri:
I just retired after 20 years with Southwest Transplant Alliance
and Donate Life Texas
. My duties as Public Affairs Director included managing the state donor registry (www.donatelifetexas.org
) and working with media, community and corporate groups to encourage people to register as donors. I also managed the organization's volunteers and produced all of its collateral materials. STA is lucky to be part of the national medical system. Its bills are paid for both by Medicare dollars and by insurance dollars.
Dawn Tongish: How can the people of North Texas and beyond help meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs at STA?
Pam Rapkin Silvestri:
The biggest need at STA is for Texans
to register as donors via www.donatelifetexas.org
or via DPS when they get or renew a license. The other thing folks can do is get and stay as healthy as possible, to keep the waiting list for organs from growing so quickly.
Dawn Tongish: It seems like awareness about organ donation has grown, but still some people are not willing to become donors. Why is that?
Pam Rapkin Silvestri: Awareness about donation has grown tremendously over the years. When people aren't willing to be donors it typically involves a fear surrounding the discussion of death and dying. It often takes the need for organ donation becoming personal before people are willing to become registered. But with the help of the Department of Public Safety, Texas has grown from 500,000 registered donors in 2009 to nearly 6,000,000 in 2014. Most Texans support donation and want to help, but we needed to make it easy for them to register.
Dawn Tongish: What is the most memorable moment in your experiences at STA?
Pam Rapkin Silvestri: My most memorable moment? There are so many. Giving my kidney to Jennifer Cox in 2011 was one. Being in the room when donor families and recipients met is another. Becoming a part of so many families as they were facing some of the most difficult days of their lives. There's no way to forget those moments.
Dawn Tongish: You have a personal story that is very compelling. A few years ago, you became an organ recipient. What was that like after talking about organ donation for so many years to experience the life-saving gift yourself?
Pam Rapkin Silvestri: Giving my kidney to Jennifer was so much easier for me than it likely is for most, because I had been in the field for so long and had seen so many people give kidneys. I knew it was a routine procedure, and I was lucky to work with some of the best physicians and surgeons in the nation. Still, the experience of getting to see the photos of the donation afterward was surreal. Jennifer has gone on to do so much since then. She's started a new non-profit called Broken Dolls. The organization helps parents who are caring for kids with chronic illnesses and it's Jennifer's personal tribute to her daughter, Tiffany, who lived with Lupus her whole life and died awaiting a kidney.
If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at email@example.com or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.