Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Partnership to Raise Awareness and Save Lives

Partnership to Raise Awareness and Save Lives Donate Life Tennessee & NASCAR Xfinity Series Driver Joey Gase

Written By: Unique Hiram for MDR Motorsports
Photo by Keith Weiss
Date: January 22, 2017

"Never underestimate your ability to make someone else’s life better – even if you never know it." – Greg Louganis

Donate Life Tennessee is a 501(c)3 non-profit Organ and Tissue Donor Registry that was established on May 6, 2006 after the State Senate passed a unanimous vote in favor of the Donor Registry Bill. Approximately four years ago, the organization partnered with Joey Gase who competes in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The organization signed on to sponsor both the spring and fall races in 2013 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“We became connected with Joey through Donate Life America, our umbrella organization, and also Donate Life Iowa where he was originally based. Because of Joey’s connection to organ and tissue donation, we started racing on the NASCAR circuit. Both organizations reached out to the different state teams that had races to see about sponsorship levels and that’s how we connected with Joey,” Sharon Pakis, Donate Life Tennessee Public Education and Relations Manager, shared with MDR Motorsports.

Joey Gase has been an advocate for organ donation because of his tragic personal experience. In April 2011, his mother Mary Jo died of a brain aneurysm. At the young age of 18, he had to make the heart wrenching decision about donating her organs that saved the life of over 60 people. As a result of this life experience, he has made it his mission to raise awareness and encourage the public to become organ and tissue donors.

“His message certainly fits our mission to save and enhance lives through organ and tissue donations and encouraging people to be organ and tissue donors in the State of Tennessee as well as in Virginia since Bristol kind of crosses those states,” Pakis said. “We will continue to support Joey on his efforts through the coming years. He is awesome to work with and such a delightful young man. He is so passionate about the cause and racing that we couldn’t ask for a better spokesperson."

Meredith Haga, Donate Life Tennessee Public Education/Public Relations Coordinator, an organ donor recipient herself expressed her pleasure in working with Gase. “It’s been great working with Joey Gase as well as working the race and everything. I can’t think of a better person or advocate for our organization. We get to work with him twice a year for both Bristol races. I know, not only myself, but also the general public look forward to his arrival. He is always one of the favorite drivers."

Ms. Haga been working with the organization a little over six months but was actually a volunteer beginning four years prior to her employment. She shared a bit of her life saving story with us. In her junior year of high school, the honor student athlete began having some medical issues that weren’t readily identified initially. Approximately three months after dealing with lingering symptoms, her diagnosis determined that she had an autoimmune disease that attacked her kidneys. 

At the age of 17, she had six rounds of chemotherapy to try and combat the disease. One year later, after graduating high school and preparing to attend college, her kidneys failed completely. In October 2011, she began dialysis treatment and that went on for about 11 months. Haga had a living donor kidney transplant when she was 19 years old.

“People that wait for kidneys can wait for a very long time. Some people never receive transplants because the supply is a lot less than the demand,” she shared. “I was very lucky because September 4, 2012, my step dad gave me a living donor transplant and that saved my life."

There are number of Donate Life Tennessee sponsored events that Joey Gase participates in when competing at Bristol – visiting Niswonger Children’s Hospital in the eastern part of the state along with local high schools. One of the most exciting and memorable events last year was Hands for Donation. Registered donors and recipients were invited to the local DMV to attend so that they could have a mold of their handprints taken and placed on the racecar.

“We had such a great turnout at the DMV. I think it was amazing. The first person to put their handprints on the car was a man who was driving by and saw Joey’s car along with the Donate Life Tennessee logo. He saw the flag waving, stopped and asked what was going on. I explained to him who we are, what we do and about our partnership with Joey. He went in to renew his license, came back out and showed me the heart telling me he felt really compelled to go get that heart on his driver’s license,” Haga said.

Donate Life Tennessee is proud to be a sponsor for Joey Gase and they are looking forward to their continued partnership with the young driver as his career grows and flourishes.

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