During the assembly block on Wednesday, February 2, Ben Fleishman ’23 and president and CEO of New England Donor Services, Alex Glazier ’89 P’20 P’22, welcomed the school to a presentation on organ donation in the United States. A liver transplant recipient himself, Ben delivered a moving speech on the importance of such life-saving procedures, while Glazier took the time to deconstruct myths around organ donation, allocation, and transplantation within the US. The talk concluded with extra time for questions.
Just about one half of the US population are currently registered as organ donors. Unfortunately, only a statistical few deaths in the US allow the deceased’s organs to be medically viable for transplant, so available organs remain scarce. Thousands die on the organ waitlist or slowly sicken until transplant is no longer viable every year. Glazier discussed the ways proposed to make organ allocation even more efficient, to allow for xenotransplantations—transplantation between animal and human, or simply to reconstitute diseased organs into healthy ones. Each held competing arguments.
Glazier did not shy away from difficult questions about organ allocation, which, although designed to be as equitable as possible for those on the waitlist, cannot solve systematic inequalities in the US healthcare system as a whole.
At the end of the day, however, organ donation is a very kind act. “Organ donation is one of the few complex surgeries today that requires community participation. At its core, organ donation is about human connection,” Glazier began. When the match goes through, it is an opportunity to witness incredible humanity.
“I am standing here today because of three reasons: the first being the miracles of modern medicine, the second is because of a tragedy, and the third is because of the incredible thoughtfulness and generosity from an individual I never knew and will never meet,” Ben said. Ben was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare liver disease preventing the liver from clearing waste, when he was a baby. He underwent the Kasai procedure to manage the disease, but his doctors put him on a waiting list for a liver transplant at age eleven. The operation took place shortly thereafter in 2017. Six weeks later, Ben returned to school.
Ben encouraged students to study and seriously consider becoming an organ donor themselves by sharing a letter his parents had written to his donor’s family shortly after the transplant. The letter was, in my opinion, a beautiful reminder of each family story swept up and sometimes forgotten in the face of bigger narratives.
Much of Glazier’s presentation was interactive, polling students via text. By the end of the presentation, many more students responded that they were inspired to register, or to eventually register, as organ donors themselves.