Every day LifeLink® of Florida works and collaborates with many different community partners to educate the public about the importance of organ, eye and tissue donation and encourage more Floridians to register as donors. Among our strongest supporters and partners are local county tax collectors and their staff. County tax collector offices provide many services to the community, including the issuance of driver licenses, at which time they ask the powerful, lifesaving question, “Would you like to register to be an organ and tissue donor?” In fact, nearly 90% of the 11.5 million Floridians who have registered as a donor, did so at their local tax collector office during a driver license transaction.
In the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office, staff member Mario Ramon knows firsthand just how important the gift of life is. Mario, a tax technician, first began his career with the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office in February 2020. Before that, however, and prior to embarking on a journey from Michigan to sunny Florida to start his new job, Mario went through another, very different, journey. Mario’s little brother, Nick, has a rare genetic condition which caused his kidneys to fail at any early age and received a living kidney donation from his dad when he was only eight years old. Years later, as an adult, Nick’s donated kidney declined, he had to begin dialysis and he was in need of a second kidney transplant. It was a no brainer for Mario to get tested to see if he was a match to be a living kidney donor for Nick, as did Mario’s mother and sister. Because most people are born with two kidneys, but healthy people can live with only one kidney, a kidney is an organ that can be gifted to someone in need while alive. Mario turned out to be a perfect match. “It was not a tough decision and once I got my labs back, I started on the next steps to be able to donate,” shared Mario.
On September 4th, 2019, Mario successfully donated his kidney to Nick. Mario described the initial pain and discomfort after surgery as if he “had done thousands of sit-ups.” Although recovery was slow at first, by the twelfth day post-donation Mario suddenly felt much better and almost back to normal. Just three short weeks after surgery, Mario and his girlfriend packed up a U-haul and made their move to Florida. Mario and Nick have both made full recoveries.
Mario’s story inspires and motivates his co-workers, particularly during April, nationally known as Donate Life Month. He was recently honored by Donate Life Florida, which oversees Florida’s organ, tissue and eye donor registry, in February 2021 for his selfless act of becoming a living donor with an “Inspiration Award” at their annual employee In-Service Day presentation.
Of the over 107,000 patients currently listed on the national transplant waiting list, more than 80% are awaiting a lifesaving kidney transplant. Last year, more than 5,000 living kidney donors provided hope and renewed life to those waiting.
During National Donate Life Month each year, county tax collectors across the state partner with Donate Life Florida to encourage more customers to register on Florida’s organ, tissue and eye donor registry - to Save Lives. Say Yes! - while renewing or getting a new driver license. Registration on Florida’s organ, tissue and eye donor registry documents your decision to become an organ donor after death, NOT to become a living kidney donor like Mario chose to do. For more information on living kidney donation contact a local transplant center.
This year’s campaign theme to encourage registration on Florida’s organ, tissue and eye donor registry is “Plant a little love and watch a miracle grow.” Throughout the month tax collector staff are encouraged to promote the lifesaving and life enhancing cause of organ, eye and tissue donation by creating in-office “Garden of Life” displays and sporting campaign themed t-shirts. Both are meant to spark conversations and “plant the seed” about organ and tissue donation with customers visiting in-office during April.
To register to save and heal lives, please visit www.DonateLifeFlorida.org.