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null Rate of registered donors grows but NYS and Finger Lakes region still lag nation

Rate of registered donors grows but NYS and Finger Lakes region still lag nation

For Immediate Release:  2019-03-06

Contact:  Karen Feigel, (585) 238-4308 /

Zachary Losee was near death when he learned a donor heart had been found for him. Now, three months after his transplant surgery, he is planning to return to school to continue his sophomore year. “It meant a second chance at life,” he said.

Zachary, 15 of Hamlin, doesn’t know where his heart came from, but more New Yorkers are signing up to be organ donors, according to a new analysis of data from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

“This donor family gave my son the greatest gift of all, which is to continue with life,” said Julie Prest, Zachary’s mother. “He wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for that gift.” 

The rate of registered organ and tissue donors in New York state has increased nearly 60 percent since 2014, according to the Excellus BCBS report. Despite that progress, New York state is still playing catch up.

Across the country 58 percent of adults are registered organ and tissue donors. Only 35 percent of New York state adults are in the donor registry - and the need for organs in New York state is third highest among the 50 states, with 9,500 individuals waiting for a transplant.

According to the report, most upstate areas perform better than the state, including the Finger Lakes region with 46 percent of adults registered as organ and tissue donors.

"The increase in donor registration shows that more people understand that they can give others a lifesaving gift. But there is still work to do,” said Lisa Harris, M.D., medical director at Excellus BCBS.  “Last year, 386 New Yorkers became too sick to remain on the waiting list and another 387 died awaiting a transplant.”

“There are so many people waiting, waiting for a heart, a liver, skin…” said Prest. “It is such a selfless act that you can do and yet it’s the greatest thing you can give anybody.”

“It’s clear in our state we need to do a better job of communicating the importance and the ease of registering as an organ and tissue donor,” said Harris.

In 2017 New York state expanded outreach and added legislation to simplify the process to register as an organ and tissue donor.

  • 16- and 17-year-olds became eligible to join the registry when applying for a driver’s license or permit 
  • New Yorkers became eligible to sign up for the Donate Life Registry when applying for or renewing a health insurance plan on the state’s health plan website
  • Lauren’s Law was made permanent in NYS, requiring customers to check one of the two boxes related to organ donation in order for their DMV application to be processed

NYS Department of Health data from October 2018 show nearly 38,000 of the new organ registrations in previous 12 months were 16- or 17-year-olds and approximately 91,000 new registrations came from the health insurance marketplace.

While in the hospital Zachary had a visit from Lauren Shields, the woman who inspired Lauren’s Law. After receiving a life-saving heart transplant at age 9, she has become a fierce advocate for organ donation. He says she’s his role model and plans to follow her lead.

“I don’t always want to be known as the kid with a heart transplant,” Zachary said. “I want to be known as the kid who made a difference.”

Excellus BCBS offers a free and downloadable organ donation infographic online, please click here.



  • Sign up through the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles in-person or online at
  • Sign up when you register to vote
  • Enroll through New York State of Health when applying for health insurance at
  • Complete a paper or online registration form at

A supplement of the Excellus BCBS report is available on our website, or by clicking here.

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Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, is a nonprofit health plan with 1.5 million upstate New York members. The company's mission is to help people live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care. Its products and services include cost-saving prescription drug discounts, wellness tracking tools and access to telemedicine. With more than 3,500 employees, the company is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce to foster innovation and better serve its members. It also encourages employees to engage in their communities by providing paid volunteer time off as one of many benefits. To learn more, visit