Have a heart, give a part: Iconic organ donation message comes home

Published 12:07 am Thursday, August 31, 2023

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Westbound commuters on U.S. Hwy. 421 have likely seen a familiar sight upon crossing the Yadkin River — a tractor-trailer put out to pasture the famous slogan, “Have A Heart, Give A Part.”

It’s the latest episode of a Rotary Club of Clemmons project to raise awareness and increase organ donations in North Carolina, but it began years ago when N.C. Treasurer Dale Folwell was in the General Assembly and was attempting to amend laws around organ donation.

Folwell’s son was killed in a school bus accident when a driver ran the bus stop sign and hit him. Folwell and his family recognized the importance and need for organs and donated his son’s. Organ donors often are young people who die in accidents.

According to Folwell, legislation that soon followed those efforts cemented the heart on a driver’s license as the wishes of the deceased, removing any doubt for surgeons and patients who might benefit from the donations of those vital organs.

Since that time, Folwell has been a champion of the project that started out locally, getting rotary members and their families to sign up to be organ donors, which mushroomed into a statewide ad campaign. Most people have seen tractor-trailers with photographs of merchandise and services on the sides of the trailers. In essence, they have become rolling billboards: McDonald’s, Harris Teeter and Coca-Cola, to name a few. So they thought, why not do this to increase organ donation?

A call to the North Carolina Trucking Association asking if their members would be interested in donating space on their blank trailers for organ donation was met with a resounding yes. The remaining tasks were to develop a great message, trailer design and, lastly, to fund the cost of approximately $3,500 per trailer. The Rotary Club donated $10,000, but that would only cover three trailers.

Phil Gibbs, a commercial artist in Lexington, donated his time and came up with an eye-popping design. Gil Davis, a club member, did some research and discovered the country of Australia used the slogan “Have A Heart, Give A Part” for their national organ donation motto. We liked it and borrowed it for our project.

The Rotary Club Foundation Committee went to work and submitted a grant to an interested organization, and we received an additional $50,000, enough to do 17 trailers. Each trucker agreed to keep the trailers on the road for at least 10 years. That equated to less than $1 per day per trailer.

Rotarian Ken Burkel’s job was to coordinate all the moving parts, get the trailers on the road, and get the message out. That was done via press releases, rollout ceremonies across the state, TV and partnering with the organ procurement organization Carolina Donor Services.

“One of the most heart-rendering aspects of this project is that we have used photos of donors on the sides of the trailers,” Burkel said. “These photos have become ongoing memorials to the family. Many donor families have told me that knowing that somehow, in losing their loved one, their organs saved someone else’s life provided them with immeasurable solace in their saddest hours.”

In 2006, when this project began, approximately 27,000 Americans received life-saving transplants, but over 6,000 died waiting for organs. In 2023, nearly 50,000 Americans will receive organ transplants.

“We can’t measure the difference our “Have A Heart, Give A Part” program has made, but we can point to the numbers and say progress is being made,” Burkle said. “Please consider being an organ donor. You or a member of your family may someday need one as well. Need for organ transplants crosses all socioeconomic lines.”

While many trailers remain on the road, the one that is now stationary was deemed non-road-worthy.

Folwell said that people at Patterson Trucking in Mocksville called a year ago and said they would salvage a trailer with the organ donation message.

“They asked me if I would like to have it,” Folwell said.

Folwell wanted to thank the folks at S&J Motors of Yadkinville, who have the field on the side of the highway where the trailer is now set up for donating the space to allow the message to continue.