This story about Ted Cochran and My Angel Foundation has been nominated as a Greatest Person of the Day for the Huffington Post. You can find it and other Greatest Person stories from around the country here.
Aug. 29, 2006, is the day that Ted Cochran says changed his life.
It was on that day, after years of battling the effects of a childhood illness and deteriorating kidney function, that Cochran received a new kidney. His donor? His mother, Carla Cochran, 54, an emergency room nurse.
"As a nurse, throughout the years, I knew that the day would come when Ted would need a new kidney," she said. "As a nurse, I also knew how many people were on a waiting list. I know that at that time, there were 260 people on waiting list for a kidney. I knew that as a living donor, a person can live with one kidney so I said, 'Test me.' Ted's brother was also a match, but I said, 'I'm the one. Let me go forward.'"
"We know that we’re facing an uphill battle. The number of donors are not keeping up with the number of people needing transplants."
It was a happy outcome, but not where the story ends.
Ted, now 33, was so moved by the whole experience that he decided to do something for the countless others who were not as fortunate to have an angel of their own. For those people who were still waiting for their second chance at life. For those who were still waiting for a donor.
"I was blessed because I had a living donor," Ted said. "Along the journey of getting my transplant, I met so many others who were waiting so I wanted to do whatever I could to help ensure that they also received the gift of life."
Raising Awareness About Need for Organ Donors
Just six months after his transplant, Ted honored his mother and her gift by starting My Angel Foundation, a non-profit group that educates and encourages Iowans to become eye, organ or tissue donors.
"I wanted to dedicate my second chance at life by giving back and being an advocate for the very thing that saved my life — organ donation," he said.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, there were 11,711 donors and 23,745 transplants performed from January to October 2011. Currently, there are 112,594 people on the waiting list for transplants in the United States.
My Angel Foundation relies on an army of volunteers to get the word out about the need for organ donation. Cochran himself, and others, visit schools and businesses, hold fundraisers, host walk/run events, just about anything to get in front of people who may not already be an eye, organ or tissue donor.
They've also been instrumental in making sure donor information is available at every motor vehicle office, so those considering donation are able to do so at the point of license renewal.
One of the things Cochran says is so important in getting people to donate, is to dispel the many myths that prevent them from donating. Some of the biggest misconceptions include a fear that you won't receive treatment should an accident or illness occur; that it costs a donor to donate; that a person's religion may not support it; or that someone is too old, too young, or too sick to donate.
"We try so hard to educate those people about these misconceptions and correct them," he said. "Most people just don't understand the process."
Efforts Yield More Donors in Iowa
The initiative seems to be working. Cochran said that in 2007, when My Angel Foundation first launched, there were only 97,000 names on the Iowa Donor Network registry. Today, according to the Iowa Donor Network website, there are more than 1,656,050 registered donors.
Chris Keahi, public affairs coordinator at the Iowa Donor Network, says Cochran's efforts with My Angel Foundation may not completely solve the need for more donors, but everything he does to change people's minds about organ donation means one more life saved.
"Donation and transplantation is one of those things people don’t think about until it somehow it affects their own life," Keahi said. "Where Ted excels is that he puts a face to those people on a waiting list and to those people who have become donors and those who have become candidates. He really makes it personal. These aren’t just figures we talk about. Ted has a way of telling people stories that make the problem relatable."
Cochran remains humble when he talks about what he's done with My Angel Foundation. Above all, he wants people to remember that it's not about what has happened to him — it's about what's happening to others around them and what they can do to change the lives of those people.
"It was my passion to honor my mom’s gift and wanting to be an advocate. Hopefully, if we made an impact on one person’s life, then it’s worth it," Cochran said. "But it’s not, 'The Ted Show.' Yes, I had a vision, but we would not have been able to get to where we are now without the countless number of volunteers who have spent thousands of hours or the countless donations that have been donated to My Angel Foundation. That's what this is all about."
What does Cochran's mom think of all this? Like any mom would be, she's proud of what her son has accomplished.
"I’m just very pleased that Ted's work has impacted so many people," Carla said. "I have been through all these organizations and the walks and I've come across so many people and listened to their stories. I know how donation can affect people’s lives. I've seen it in Ted. I see how it changed him. I'm very proud of him. He's giving someone else hope and inspiration."
To become an organ donor, you can sign up at www.iowadonornetwork.org; designate your decision on your driver's license; tell your family and friends about your decision; and make sure to include the information in your advance directives and wills.