Randall Cobb and Sam Ives, who is in need of a heart transplant, spend the day together in Appleton and advocate for organ donation. (June 15, 2015) Wm. Glasheen | Gannett Wisconsin Media
APPLETON – The T-shirt's slogan is visible through the open front of Sam Ives' dress shirt — Be a hero: become an organ donor.
There are two shirts like it. Ives, a 20-year-old from New London, owns one. The other belongs to Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb, who met Ives earlier this week.
Both men are working to raise awareness of organ, eye and tissue donation.
"I just hope ... it will maybe change one person's mind," Ives said. "Maybe they'll become a donor and the organs will go to someone else ... in need."
RELATED: More from our organ donation series
With a lifelong history of heart trouble and cascading medical issues including liver damage, Ives and his family knew he'd eventually need a new heart. With that possibility looming, he's been told he could end up on an organ waiting list for years.
Ives pulls his shirt down to display the back of the T-shirt; COBB is written in yellow block letters between the shoulders.
"Randall brings a real face to it, everyone knows Randall Cobb of the Packers, and he can really take it to new levels and hopefully help a lot of people with the platform he has," Ives said.
"I'm just a normal guy," Cobb said with a laugh. "I just happen to play football."
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb speaks to employees of the Appleton Post-Crescent on the importance of organ donation and the positive outcome it can make in someone's life. (June 15, 2015) Jim Rosandick/Gannett Wisconsin Media
Cobb partnered with Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin and Gannett Wisconsin Media this spring on a campaign to raise awareness about organ donation. He spoke Monday to Post-Crescent Media employees about the importance of becoming a donor and met Ives.
"Being a donor, and God forbid something was to happen, you're able to save a life and help a family in need," Cobb said. "When you're looking at numbers ... until you actually put a name with a face, and hear their story, see their flesh, understand what they are going through and what they are dealing with, it kind of puts life into perspective and how important and valuable every little thing we do in life is."
Donation advocates, doctors, patients and families are well aware of an acute shortage of donor organs, eyes and tissue. About 2,500 people in Wisconsin are on a waiting list for an organ with more than 123,000 on lists nationwide.
Patients can wait years for donated hearts, lungs, livers and kidneys. On average, more than 20 people die each day awaiting a transplant, according to government statistics.
"The biggest thing for me was to meet different people, like Sam (Ives), and to be able to have those conversations about what's going on and how we can help," said Cobb, a registered donor. "It's a big deal and we're saving lives."
Wisconsin relaunched its donor registry in March 2010 to include legal consent to make the donation. Prior to that, medical staff had to seek consent from next of kin. While almost 60 percent of eligible residents in Wisconsin are part of the donor registry, advocates say they'd like to see that number move closer to 75 percent in the coming years.
While a candidate, Ives' is not yet on a transplant list.
Ives' mom, Sarah, said she thankful to see Cobb using his notoriety to help a life-saving cause, one that may help save her son.
"I always knew he'd need an organ, but I never thought there would be a shortage," Sarah Ives said. "It was really difficult to hear and made us want to the get the word out and tell people. I'm so thankful someone like (Cobb), who doesn't have to take their to do that, would take their time to do that."
Ives, who turns 21 in a few days , is attending the University of Wisconsin - Fox Valley with his sights set on attending more college and earning a degree in actuarial science.
"I want to get a job like a normal person," Ives said. "I want a normal, quiet, life with a family."
Cobb wants to see Ives enjoy that life.
"Sam has dreams, we were talking about them on the way over here, he has some plans for the future and I hope to God he has that opportunity to live them out," he said.
On the Web
Donor registry (Donate Life Wisconsin): yesIwillwisconsin.com
Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin: froedtert.com/donatelife
University of Wisconsin Transplant Program: uwhealth.org/transplant; and uwhealth.org/organ-donation/organ-and-tissue-donation/10868
Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center: www.aurorastlukes.org
Children's Hospital of Wisconsin: chw.org
National Kidney Registry: kidneyregistry.org
Wisconsin Donor Network: www.bcw.edu/bcw/Organ-Tissue-Marrow/Wisconsin-Donor-Network-and-Tissue-Bank/index.htm
Donate Life America: donatelife.net
Wisconsin Department of Transportation (donor section): dot.wisconsin.gov/driversdrivers/apply/donor.htm
Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin: lebw.org
Joshua J. Richards Charitable Foundation: www.joshuarichardsfoundation.org