Group raising awareness for organ donation

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Debi Plamondon was riding with the wind as she pedaled her bike down Padre Boulevard yesterday and every turn was all for a good cause.

This wasn’t the first time she participated in the Tour de Padre Bike tour and pub crawl that takes participants to different Island restaurants.

Debi, a Winter Texan from Maine said she and her partner, Phil Baker, had done the tour together before in 2009.

But this time she was riding alone, remembering him and at the same time raising awareness to educate people to become a life-saving organ donor as a registered donor.

Debi, also the ambassador for the state of Maine for donors, organized yesterday’s event to remember Phil who died five months after a lung transplant.

She said he had pulmonary fibrosis and was initially told he would only live two months without a transplant.

His life was extended by five months after receiving a transplant.

“I really saw the benefit that a transplant can do for people,” Debi said. “Then I became an advocate for organ transplants.”

She still carries a photo in her phone of the helicopter that flew to the hospital with the lung for Phil, 72, who received his transplant at Duke University Hospital last year.

But he never fully recovered after the operation.

“It was something special to see that helicopter fly in,” Debi said. “Hopefully more and more people will donate, and we will not need to wait for organs in the future.”

In Phil’s case he didn’t have to wait very long for his transplant after he was cleared for a lung transplant.

Others wait for years.

She said it was a surprise to find out Phil needed a transplant since he looked strong and loved the outdoors and activities like the Tour de Padre Bike Tour and pub crawl.

Yesterday’s crawl started at Pier 19 where participants enjoyed breakfast and cocktails as the late morning sun appeared brightly in the blue sky.

More than 80 Winter Texans from the Isla Blanca Park also participated with Debi to raise awareness for National Donor Day.

It was their annual event that takes them to different Island restaurants.

Many of the Winter Texans also participated in the event to remember family and friends who have died or had transplants.

“This is a great turnout any time someone comes out to promote donation is really great,” said Edwina Garza, Texas Organ Sharing Alliance communications coordinator. “We don’t talk about donation enough.”

Every 10 minutes another person is placed on the transplant waiting list and 22 people die daily because of the severe lack of organs available for transplant.

She said it’s something that doesn’t really affect a lot of people until someone in the family is in need of an organ transplant in order to live.

“In the U.S., 120,000 people are waiting for a donor,” Garza said. “And the need for kidneys is so great.”

She said 11,000 people are waiting for a donor in Texas alone and have been waiting many years for another chance at life.

She called donating the greatest act of love and charity you can do for another person.

Over the past two years, 46 people from the Valley have received a transplant donation.

She said the number is slowly increasing and more people are becoming registered donors.

“Each of us has the power to save up to eight lives as organ donors,” Garza said. “And you can affect the lives of about 75 to 100 others through tissue donation.”