Don’t let them wait: Families encourage AZ residents to register as organ donors

PHOENIX – When Carie Semenko took her infant daughter Miela to the hospital nearly a year ago, she thought they’d soon be back home. Then, doctors told her Miela needed a new heart.

Miela had an enlarged heart and spent 54 days in intensive care, including 20 days waiting for a heart transplant.

“The longest days of your entire life,” Semenko said, crying Wednesday as she remembered the heartbreak of waiting.

“You’re in this precarious place where you need someone else to save you and that’s a scary place to be,” Semenko said. “You don’t know if that call is going to come.”

Carie Semenko said her 15-month-old daughter, Miela, has a good life ahead of her because she received a donor heart when she was just a few months old. Hospital when Miela needed a heart transplant. (Photo by Ethan Millman/Cronkite News)

Miela is now 15 months old, a new heart beating in her chest.

The Semenkos were among three families – those who donated an organ and those who received organs – who celebrated how organ donation saves lives.

One Big Day of Donation at Phoenix Children’s Hospital launched a monthlong effort during National Donate Life Month, to encourage Arizona residents and others across the country to get on the organ donation registry.

Miela was one of 10 Arizona children younger than one year old who received a heart transplant last year, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Nearly 1,100 Arizona residents received an organ transplant, the data shows, but more than 2,300 people are still waiting for help.

Marcel Pincince, director of donor family and advocate services at the Donor Network of Arizona, said the Donate Life campaign showcases kindness.

“What this campaign means to me is a chance to highlight the amazing generosity of people in Arizona and across the country,” Pincince said.

Doryce and Bill Norwood donated their grandaughter Haley Ford’s organs after she and her mother were killed in a car crash more than a decade ago.

Haley’s heart went to a girl named Kelsey who calls the Norwoods her “heart grandparents.”

Jason and Jenny Steel’s 11-year-old son was hours away from dying of liver failure when he received a liver transplant.

“You would never know that he was literally 12 hours from passing,” Jason Steel said. “That’s all that we had left that evening. Had we not had the donor that night, the next morning, it might have very well been the end” for their son.

What potential organ donors need to know

  • How many people are registered organ donors?

    More than three million people are on Arizona’s donor registry list, according to Marcel Pincince, director of donor family and advocate services at the Donor Network of Arizona. But it takes the right match, such as blood type, for a transplant to work.

  • Can a family override a relative’s decision to donate organs?

    No. Patricia Pace Anderson, donor program development manager for Donor Network of Arizona, said Arizona is a first-person authorization state, which means family cannot change someone’s decision to donate.

  • How can someone become a donor?

    There are multiple ways to become an organ donor. In Arizona, people can register online at, and residents can also become donors at the Department of Motor Vehicles when they get a driver’s license.

  • Who can become an organ donor?

    Anyone can register to become a donor. While adults can fill out the registration form on their own, in most cases, children younger than 18 must get parent or guardian permission to become donors. Health-care professionals want as many people as possible to register to expand the potential for a match.

(Video by Chloe Ranshaw/Cronkite News)