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BOWLING GREEN - Rick Manion declared his intent to be an organ donor years ago.
The Maumee man didn't give the issue much thought, though, until 2001, when his plans of retiring to Arizona were abruptly interrupted by a diagnosis of end-stage liver disease.
"It's been without a doubt the most life-altering experience of my life," said Mr. Manion, 53.
Although he remains on a waiting list for a liver, Mr. Manion joined area transplant recipients yesterday to say thank you to the staff at the License Bureau of Bowling Green. The agency was recognized for the second year in a row by the Ohio Transplant Recovery Council for signing up the highest percentage of organ donors in northwest Ohio.
"You're a hero. You're our hero,'' Mr. Manion told Rob Holley, deputy registrar at the license bureau."It's people like you who make it all worthwhile."
Of the 16,777 people who applied for or renewed driver's licenses at the agency on East Wooster Street in 2004, 10,214, or 60.8 percent, agreed to donate their organs when they die.
"The state average is just below 50 percent, so you can see that this BMV excels," said Nancy Ellis, community relations manager for Life Connection of Ohio, an organ procurement organization that serves northwest and west central Ohio.
In the 24-county area served by Life Connection, license bureaus sign up anywhere from 27.6 percent at the downtown Toledo bureau to the 60.8 percent in Bowling Green.
Mr. Holley said he has always made sure his staff is informed about the Ohio Donor Registry so that when customers ask questions, employees can answer them or direct them to brochures with information about the program.
"A lot of people will ask about organ donation and if my employee answers them with an 'I don't know,' they probably won't sign up," he said.
Customers often have misconceptions about organ donation.
"A lot of people make comments like they're going to take my organs before I'm dead," Mr. Holley said.
"I think part of it is educating my staff so they understand what's true and what's not, and then they can bust some of the myths."
Carol Kominek, of Portage, Ohio, had some of those misconceptions before she received a liver transplant in 2000 after waiting just 38 days.
"It came from a young man who was in an accident. I don't know what kind of accident," she said.
He was 29 and had declared on his driver's license that he would donate his organs.
His decision saved her life - and gave her a new appreciation for it, too.
"Every day you wake up - life totally changes after that," she said.
"When you've made your funeral arrangements, when you're given six months to live, all kinds of things go through your head."
In addition to joining the Ohio Donor Registry when renewing a driver's license or state identification card, Ohioans also can register online at www.donatelifeohio.org. In Michigan, go to www.giftoflifemichigan.org.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: