Transplant Survivor’s Tireless Efforts Lead to Landmark Legislation for Organ Donors

November 17, 2023
(from left) Dr. Marwan Abouljoud, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Henry Ford Health President & CEO Bob Riney, transplant recipient David Galbenski, Sen. Kevin Hertel
DETROIT – Henry Ford Health doctors and patients joined lawmakers and advocates Friday to celebrate the passage of a bill preventing health insurers from denying or restricting coverage for living organ donors in Michigan. Sponsored by state Sen. Kevin Hertel, (D) St. Clair Shores, Senate Bill 384 successfully passed through both the Michigan House and Senate before being signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer earlier this month.

“Senate Bill 384 is an important step in ensuring that those who are willing to be living donors are protected and covered,” said Bob Riney, President and CEO of Henry Ford Health. “By legally fortifying these protections, we pave the way for a remarkable increase in organ availability — an incredible prospect where more individuals are empowered to bestow the profound gift of life upon others. It is truly the greatest gift of all, and those willing to give it shouldn’t be penalized or discriminated against.”
This legislation empowers individuals to collaborate with Michigan transplant centers, like Henry Ford Health’s Center for Living Donation, to facilitate kidney or liver donations to those awaiting life-saving transplants. According to Gift of Life, more than 2,400 Michiganders are waiting for life-saving organs.
“Passing this law was truly a grassroots effort,” said 54-year-old David Galbenski, a living liver recipient and enthusiastic advocate of the bill. “This legislative journey is a testament to the power of good policy, passionate advocacy, and dedicated legislators. It’s a celebration of paying it forward and ensuring that every future living donor in Michigan can step forward without hesitation knowing that the system supports and protects their altruistic act.”

In July of 2022, after a successful liver transplant surgery at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Galbenski found himself immersed in a conversation at the Transplant Games of America with state Sen. John Albers of Georgia, who is a living kidney donor. Albers had recently passed living donor protection legislation in Georgia, and hearing about his success gave Galbenski the confidence he could change the law back home, so that when someone contemplates becoming a living donor, intimidating questions about the impact on life insurance, disability, or long-term care could be definitively answered.

Galbenski reached out to advocacy groups to build support for the proposed legislation. Hertel, Galbenski’s state senator, proved to be a natural ally as chair of Michigan’s Health Policy Committee. The bill, which passed the House and Senate with resounding support, aims to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage, canceling coverage, or increasing premiums related to life insurance, disability insurance, or long-term care insurance for living organ donors. The legislation not only eases the financial burden on living donors but also provides assurance to potential donors.

“As the wait list for an organ transplant continues to expand, it’s incumbent upon lawmakers to do everything we can to promote and protect donors,” said Hertel. “When a Michigander takes the selfless step to donate a part of themselves to improve the health of another, they deserve protection from discrimination at the very least. I’m proud that the Legislature was able to come together in a bipartisan fashion to enshrine these well-deserved protections for living organ donors into law, so they can access insurance coverage without undue burden.”


"Living organ donors are heroes who selflessly give organs and tissues to help others live and thrive,” said Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II. “Thanks to Senate Bill 384, Michiganders won’t have to fear higher premiums or cancelled or denied insurance because of their status as a living organ donor, and more people will make the decision to become living organ donors, saving lives and shortening waitlists. State government is leading by example with paid leave for state employees to become living organ donors, and we will continue standing tall to help Michiganders support their families and loved ones and save lives.”
The journey has been marked by emotional highs, with Galbenski’s living liver donor and brother-in-law, Mark Dybis, fighting with him through the bill’s passage on the House floor.

“It gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes thinking about what this means for future donors and recipients, because that's what we want to do with our second lives as recipients -- just pay it forward,” said Galbenski. “And this is just another way Mark and I have bonded on behalf of every future living donor in the state of Michigan.”

In a celebration of the signing at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Marwan Abouljoud, MD., Director of Henry Ford’s Transplant Institute, presented Galbenski and Hertel with Transplant Advocacy Awards in recognition of their exceptional commitment to championing the rights of transplant patients and promoting living donation in the process.

“Dave came to us with an incurable liver disease and found his second chance in living donor liver transplant,” Dr. Abouljoud said. “After recovery he didn’t just say ‘thank you’ and go on his way. He saw an opportunity to use his skills and as an expert in the law, as an influencer, and as a compelling public speaker, he is making it possible for more people to have a chance at life through living organ donation."
Looking ahead, Galbenski hopes to introduce tax credits for living organ donors, further eliminating financial barriers, and encouraging more Michiganders to save lives.

Henry Ford Health has the most comprehensive transplant program in Michigan, offering transplantation for liver, kidney, intestine and multi-visceral organs, pancreas, heart, and lung. In 2022, the Henry Ford transplant team successfully performed 1,318 living donor kidney transplants and 138 living donor liver transplants. The program has more than 20 outreach offices throughout Michigan, making it convenient for patients to be seen locally in their communities for pre- and post-transplant care.



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