Ten years ago, Jeffrey Johns was in an automobile accident and died from a brain injury. After his passing, doctors came up to his parents, Lori Malkin and Tom Johns, to say he could save lives, but he was not a registered organ donor.
His parents made the decision to help others.
All eight of Jeffrey Johns' organs were donated, which saved five lives, and he helped 50 people through tissue donation. It is also when Malkin's passion to educate others and save lives came alive and she created the nonprofit JJ's Legacy.
In 2016 the Got the Dot High School Leadership Program took off to educate high school students about organ, eye and tissue donation. After having a presence in eight high schools, the nonprofit is looking to expand.
"When first time drivers go to the DMV to apply for their driver's license, it is mandatory to complete and answer question No. 6 on the form, which asks them if they would like to be an organ, eye and tissue donor," Malkin explained. A pink dot on one's driver's license signals that person is an organ donor.
Approximately 30 percent of Kern County's population is registered and 350 people are waiting for transplants, according to Mira Patel, marketing and communications coordinator.
"We felt it was important to go into the high schools and educate first-time student drivers about the need and importance of organ donation and dispel misconceptions," Malkin added.
A common one she hears is if doctors at a hospital see someone is an organ donor, they will not try to save their life.
"That's not close to being true," Malkin said, so she sought to educate the "best audience" to set the record straight.
For five consecutive weeks program coordinators visited Regional Occupational Center at Bakersfield, West, North, Centennial, Mira Monte, Frontier and Golden Valley high schools with guest speakers, organ recipients and donor families.
Most of the students are part of their school's Interact Club, which is typically involved in community service efforts. Many others also have had some experience with organ donation.
"I had an aunt who received a double lung transplant nine years ago and is still living her life to the fullest," said Jennifer Watkins, adviser at Frontier High School. "I loved the concept of teens educating teens on the importance of donor registration and putting that pink dot on their driver’s license."
"Although I have people in my own family in need of donations and that had donated organs themselves, the topic of organ donation was generally avoided in my house," said Samantha De Alba, a sophomore at Golden Valley High School. "I wanted to find out more about this topic that was so unfamiliar to me."
At the end of the program, students create a video and the first- and second-place teams are awarded scholarships.
Malkin hopes to expand to Bakersfield College, Cal State Bakersfield, Delano and Tehachapi. The more people that understand what it means to be an organ donor means more of our loved ones live on while saving lives, she said.
Jodie Hare, the Interact Club adviser at West High School and a registered organ donor, said one of the many benefits of the program is students can share their experiences with others, "thus creating the possibility of changing someone’s life for the better."
Bakersfield High School senior Emily Frank said the biggest takeaway for her was hearing stories from people whose lives have been saved by organ donation.
"(It) helped me realize how big of a deal this program is and how much I can help others, even just by getting the pink dot," she added.
For more information on JJ's Legacy and Got the Dot, visit www.jjslegacy.org.