Mar 27, 2019 09:00AM
● By Alyssa McGinnis
By Alex Strauss
There are few more passionate and outspoken fans of Dakota Lions Sight & Health than Alan Berdahl. Not only has Berdahl served as the organization’s Community Outreach Coordinator since 2013, but he is also the father of DLSH medical director John Berdahl, MD, and the recipient of donor corneas that saved his sight.
A sufferer of Fuch’s Dystrophy, Berdahl received new corneal tissue in a surgery his son performed in 2014. The former band director joined the eye bank in 2010 as a distribution specialist. When it became clear that his gregarious personality was wasted in the lab, he started speaking to community groups instead.
“The goal is always to increase number of donors,” says Berdahl. “I realized that one of the key groups we needed to be talking to were people in driver’s ed because they are going to be asked about being organ donors when they apply for their license,”
In 2014, Berdahl developed and launched the first and only eye and tissue donation education program geared specifically for driver’s ed students.
“It’s a no-brainer but no one has ever done it,” says Berdahl. “In Minnesota, they have to spend some time talking about organ donation. But you can’t ask questions of a video. Kids ask me questions all the time.”
Berdalh’s hour-and-a-half presentation, titled “A Legacy of Life”, includes donation facts, pictures, videos, real talk about his own experience as a recipient, stories of young donors, take-home materials, and plenty of time for Q & A.
“Many kids are surprised to find out that hundreds of grafts can come from a single donor because we recover so many different types of tissue,” says Berdahl.
Last year, he spoke to 67 driver’s ed classes, including public schools in Sioux Falls and Rapid City and surrounding communities, reaching more than 2,200 young people.
“Until they are 18, their parents have to sign off on organ donation, so I give them an ‘assignment’ to go home and talk to their parents about this,” says Berdahl. “This is probably the first truly mature decision that these kids have to make. This is not an easy conversation.”
But it may be a conversation that is already making a difference. In 2017, 59 percent of South Dakota drivers registered as a donor or maintained their donor status. In 2018, that number rose to 61 percent.
“If mom and dad aren’t donors, it is possible that the conversation with their son or daughter might prompt them to become donors,” says Berdahl. “But, in my mind, whether or not they become donors is less important than the fact that they had the conversation. If they have the conversation, we win.”