Inquirer ad raises interest in organ donations

Robert Rehrmann doesn't need an organ transplant but spent thousands to persuade Inquirer readers to donate. (Ron Tarver / Staff)
Robert Rehrmann doesn't need an organ transplant but spent thousands to persuade Inquirer readers to donate. (Ron Tarver / Staff)
Posted: July 14, 2010

Robert J. Rehrmann is such a believer in organ donation that he ran a full-page ad in Tuesday's Inquirer urging people to follow his example and register as a donor.

"Think of the incredible relief of human suffering you will have helped bring about," the 84-year-old retired aeronautical engineer wrote in the $3,700 advertisement, published in Pennsylvania editions.

Alas, his altruistic promotion contained some misinformation about how to register. And it turns out that he actually signed up to give his body for medical education, not organ donation.

Despite the confusion, officials at the regional organ donor program, as well as the separate registry through which bodies can be donated for medical education in Pennsylvania, applauded Rehrmann's intentions.

"We weren't aware that he was running this ad, but it might be a blessing in disguise," said Clariza Murray, program manager for Humanity Gift Registry, which handles bodies for medical education.

At Gift of Life, the organ donor program, spokesman John Green took the opportunity to seek to dispell a "myth" that there is an age limit for donors.

"Our oldest liver donor was 85," Green said. "I certainly think it's great that Robert wants to save lives."

Rehrmann, a bachelor who lives at the Granite Farms Estates retirement community near Media, said he was active and healthy, except for Parkinson's disease.

In April, he decided he wanted to offer his organs, if suitable, for transplantation after his death.

In Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware - the states served by Gift of Life - a resident can add a donor designation to a driver's license or state identification card. This can be done online through the motor vehicle division's website, or in person at a motor vehicle office.

Rehrmann said he was not aware of this system. Instead, he called Thomas Jefferson University Hospital's main number and talked to an operator, who gave him the number for Humanity Gifts Registry, which sent him registration forms that he filled out and returned, signed by two witnesses.

Apparently, he overlooked sentences like this one on the forms: "I hereby donate my body, if medically acceptable . . . for anatomical study and research."

Murray said the organization would return his paperwork upon request so he could sign up with Gift of Life as an organ donor - which he said he wants to do.

Rehrmann is certainly not the first to be confused, Murray said: "I spend a lot of my time explaining things."

But the full-page ad may have spread his confusion, because he directed would-be organ donors to do what he did, starting with calling Jefferson's main number.

By late afternoon, the hospital had received 70 calls, spokeswoman Jackie Kozlowski said.

One of those calls, she said, was from a irate funeral director. In his ad in the local news section, Rehrmann speculated that if more people knew about organ donation, "funeral directors will lose business but they will have to seek other employment. This happened to buggy whip makers when cars came along."


How to Donate

Organ transplantation

Gift of Life: Nonprofit coordinates organ donations and transplants in Eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and Delaware. Its website links to state motor-vehicle agency sites that offer online registration.

Call 1-800-366-6771 or go to www.donors1.org.

Medical research

Humanity Gifts Registry: Nonprofit agency created by Pennsylvania to receive and distribute bodies donated to medical and dental schools in the state for teaching purposes.

Call 215-922-4440 or go to www.hgrpa.com.

UMDNJ-RWJMS Anatomical Association: New Jersey residents may contact the Anatomical Association at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Call 1-800-443-8211 or go to http://rwjms.umdnj.edu/neuroscience/


Contact staff writer Marie McCullough at 215-854-2720 or mmccullough@phillynews.com.

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