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Written by Mike Terry   
Thursday, 29 November 2012 02:57

Van Nuys DMV Office Celebrated For Efforts To Register Organ Donors


Hooshang Torabi, a kidney donor, tells an audience of Van Nuys DMV office workers how important their efforts are in encouraging peoploe to become organ donors when they renew their driver's license or state ID card. "This is not about giving some dollars to an organization. It's about giving see DONORS on page 12 life," he said.

In addition to easing people through long lines and long waits to get a driver's license or state identification cards, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Van Nuys Field Office became recognized for something else – helping save lives.

The office and its workers were recognized on Wednesday, Nov. 28, by the Donate Life California Organ and Tissue Donor Registry for its efforts to increase the registration of potential donors statewide. The Van Nuys office was one of four regional DMV offices cited by Donate Life.

Currently 21,505 of the city's 379,108 residents have been registered. Sabrina Ho, DMV and media specialist for Donate Life, said 100 million people nationwide have signed up to be organ donors "and 98 percent of them have been registered through [DMV] counters." She added that more than nine million are registered in California.

She went on to say, however, that less than one percent of those registered become eligible to be donors, and fewer than that actually donate. "That's why we ask everyone to check 'yes' to be a donor" when getting a license or ID card, she said.

As of July 1, 2011, it became mandatory for all Californians to check one of two boxes on their license or ID card to indicate their commitment to donation.


Van Nuys resident and retired autoworker Darrell Rob, who received a liver transplant in 2005, said he now has two birthdays; June 3, when he was born, and Nov. 18," the day I had my surgery."

"We're hoping to reach 10 million by next April," Ho said. On Wednesday, the office workers heard from two men on the importance of organ donation. Hooshang Torabi, 62, who works in a DMV office in Simi Valley, was inspired to donate a kidney five years ago after his wife's life was saved by a similar donation.

He said his wife, Karen, became ill in 1998, slipped into a coma, and was declared brain dead. She did awaken from the coma, but her kidneys had failed.

"When I brought my wife home she could not function as a normal person. She didn't even have five percent of the energy she previously had. She couldn't taste food, smell food, or want to eat food. She could not even climb 2-3 steps," said Torabi, his voice halting at times from the memory.

"It was then I realized I was not the strongest person in our house – I realized it was her. Not only could our family not function without her, I could not function without her." He said their daughter, Saba, was eventually able to donate a kidney and save Karen's life in 1999.

Torabi said while working for the DMV in Thousand Oaks in 2007, he heard the wife of another DMV worker, Gaston Gonzalez in Irvine, was seeking a kidney.

He said he knew what he had to do. He got tested, and learned he was a match for Gonzalez – "the closest match a person could be who wasn't a twin." It would take an additional 6-7 months, however, before he could donate.

"I had to lie to UCLA (hospital officials) that I had known this man for 6-7 years and we were close friends," said Torabi, who actually met Gonzalez for the first time about five days before the operation.

He said Gonzalez is doing well, living in San Dimas and that they stay in touch. "We're like brothers," he said. Torabi told the audience how crucial their role is in signing up donors. "This is not about giving some dollars to an organization. It's about giving life. Up to eight people can be helped from one donor."

Darrell Rob's story was also compelling but for a different reason – he is a transplant recipient.

The Van Nuys resident contracted Hepatitis-B in Viet Nam while serving in the Army. He said the symptoms were dormant in his body for 30 years, but they suddenly flared up in 2005 and nearly killed him.

"When I went to doctors at UCLA, I thought I had flu symptoms that wouldn't go away," said Rob, 60, a retired autoworker. "I didn't know it then but I was becoming jaundiced and my liver was starting to fail.

Rob said he was returned home after an evaluation, but later that evening became desperately ill. He was rushed to a hospital in Tarzana, where he slipped into a coma, then back to UCLA.

He would be in that coma for nearly a week, and underwent a liver transplant operation at UCLA on Nov. 18, 2005. He remained hospitalized five more months because of complications before returning home.

"I tell people if you want to look at a miracle, you're looking at one," he said, pointing to himself. "Now it's my calling to get the message out.

"A lot of the things we go through today, that's nothing when you see your life flash before you. I now have two birthdays; June 3, my own, and Nov. 18, my surgery day, when I pray for my donor, thank God, and take time to remember my gift."

He said he now spends his days enjoying his new granddaughter and as a volunteer for the Red Cross and Donate Life. "And yes, I am Santa," Rob said, playfully stroking the white beard he grows in the winter, and adding he has appeared as Santa Clause in hospitals and a few local commercials.

"How do you give back a gift? You don't," Rob said. So I try to do all I can to give back to the community, give back to my town, everybody I can, and get the word out."

According to statistics, 116,034 USA residents are on waiting lists for an organ transplant. Of that total, 21,004 live in California. Depending on the organ needed, recipients can be listed from 7-10 years.

For more information on how to register as an organ donor, visit

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 November 2012 03:05