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Retiree’s son benefits, gives back to donor organization

John Salazar Jr., volunteer for the Donor Network of Arizona, assists 162nd Maintenance Squadron member Senior Airman Scott Coffey with filling out a donor application during the December drill. John is a cornea recipient benefiting from the donor network and he’s the son of retired 162nd member John Salazar. (Air National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Desiree Twombly)

John Salazar Jr., volunteer for the Donor Network of Arizona, assists 162nd Maintenance Squadron member Senior Airman Scott Coffey with filling out a donor application during the December drill. John is a cornea recipient benefiting from the donor network and he’s the son of retired 162nd member John Salazar. (Air National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Desiree Twombly)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Several 162nd Fighter Wing members here signed up to be organ donors through the Donor Network of Arizona (DNA) thanks to the advocacy of one member of the wing family.

John Salazar, Jr. is the son of retired 162nd Fighter Wing member, John Salazar. He's not only a loyal volunteer of DNA, but he's also a donor recipient. In his spare time, he sets up information tables at events and provides information to and assists applicants with making an important decision.

"DNA is an organization that educates and informs the public on organ and tissue donation for transplants. What I do as a volunteer is promote donor registry. I do this by going to schools, hospitals or health fairs on a regular basis. At hospitals I provide special training to DNA requesters and hospital staff on how to engage with families for donations," said Salazar.

DNA is the federally-designated, not-for-profit, organ-procurement organization for the state of Arizona and a tissue and eye recovery organization. DNA serves five organ transplant centers in Arizona with the combined capacity to perform heart, lung, kidney, pancreas, liver and various tissue transplants.

The organization has a special importance for John. He is a three-time cornea recipient who suffered from a condition called keratoconus. It is a degenerative disease of the cornea that causes it to gradually thin and bulge into a cone-like shape causing vision to become blurred and distorted to a degree that cannot be corrected with glasses.

"I had my first cornea transplant in my right eye in July 1979. I was in the process of waiting for a cornea for my left eye in '96 when I found out about this organization," he said.

John has been volunteering for the Donor Network of Arizona since October 1996 and is dedicated to attending many public events to inform the community on the importance of organ donation.

"Volunteering time to this organization is the easiest and best way I can think of to say thank you to the three families who have said 'yes' to me and given me another chance to have my vision," he said.

There are more than one million registered donors in Arizona and more than 1,700 individuals in Arizona on the waiting list for transplants as of December 2008 according to DNA's Website. Organ and tissue donations are distributed based on patient need and medical criteria. There are no costs associated with making an election for donation.

"The same way individuals take care of their life insurance and funeral arrangements for 'down the road', DNA provides a plan ahead of time for organ and tissue donation. This eliminates the need for family members to make a decision during an inopportune time," he said.

"I always wondered what kind of impact donating would have or if I would ever know anybody. Since then I've come to know a few more folks who became donors. Saying yes to donating benefits everyone," John said.

Additional information on becoming a donor is available on line at www.dnaz.org.