Green Bay Packer Randall Cobb tours Froedtert Hospital & the Medical College of Wisconsin on March 31, 2015, in Milwaukee, Wis. Wm. Glasheen/Post-Crescent Media
MILWAUKEE – Charles Butler Sr. held a tissue to his eyes. He needed to pause as he told Randall Cobb how a double lung transplant changed his life.
"It would be really good ... for more people to be organ donors and to find out more about how the program works," he told the Green Bay Packers wide receiver during a tour of Froedtert Hospital & the Medical College of Wisconsin last week. "Not all organs can be used. I had three or four false calls thinking I was going to have a transplant, only to find out the organs weren't good."
In fact, Cobb told Butler that was the reason for his visit.
"That's what I'm here for, so I can educate myself a little bit more to be able to help," he told Butler. "I hope I can continue to spread some of that awareness because more people need to know. I'm going to do everything I can to help make sure that happens."
Fresh off a groundbreaking season and a new contract, the 24-year-old Cobb is the public face of a 14-week effort by Froedtert and Gannett Wisconsin Media to help draw attention to the need for organ donors.
"Being able to help with the donor program here at Froedtert is important," Cobb said. "We have the opportunity as humans to be able to help each other. Whenever we're given these opportunities, we have ... to help as much as we can."
The push coincides with a nationwide effort in April — designated as Donate Life Month — intended to turn the spotlight on successful organ transplants and to draw attention to the need for additional organ donors.
More than 2,300 people are on waiting lists for an organ transplant in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Donor Network. Nationally that number is more than 123,000.
Cobb registered as a donor at 16 and continues to carry a mark — a small heart — on his Tennessee drivers license indicating his status as a donor.
He said he hopes the campaign raises awareness and prompts some people to seek additional information about ways to help.
"Hopefully we can get more donors added to the list to shorten up the time the people in need have to wait," he said. "To help save a life and give to someone else."
Four hospitals in the state perform organ transplants: Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center; Children's Hospital of Wisconsin; Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin; and the University of Wisconsin Hospital transplant program in Madison.
"We're trying to raise awareness for the importance of organ donation, in particular in northeastern and north central Wisconsin," said Frank Lococo, director of advertising and marketing with Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. "We're able to partner with Randall Cobb, and Gannett, to get the word out about the importance of becoming an organ donor and its impact across Wisconsin."
He said the effort is intended to showcase the hospital's and medical college's programs and services to residents who may be unfamiliar. The campaign includes print media, video (including segments featuring Cobb) and web-based efforts.
The goal: get people to become registered organ donors.
"This is always an important effort for us," he said. "While this particular campaign may end in 14 weeks, it's something that is very important for us year round. The need for organ donation is critical."
Candee Biesterveld of Kaukauna met Cobb as he toured the hospital. She received a kidney transplant from a living donor in January and was elated to see the Packers player joining the effort to draw awareness to organ transplants.
"We need to get people to know live donors can give kidneys," she told Cobb while standing in her hospital room.
"Hopefully we can raise some more awareness," Cobb told her.
He said meeting patients like Butler and Biesterveld put his efforts in perspective.
"It makes me realize how important this is at a higher level," Cobb said. "I've always felt helping people is important, but when you see the impact you can have on somebody's life, it makes it more obvious how important organ donations are."
On the web
• Donor registry: yesIwillwisconsin.com
• Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin: froedtert.com/donatelife
• Wisconsin Donor Network: www.bcw.edu/bcw/Organ-Tissue-Marrow/Wisconsin-Donor-Network-and-Tissue-Bank/index.htm
• BloodCenter of Wisconsin (Wisconsin Donor Network) donation information: bcw.edu/sharinglife
• Donate Life America: donatelife.net
• Wisconsin Department of Transportation (donor section): dot.wisconsin.gov/drivers/drivers/apply/donor.htm