Light Up the Darkness: The Band Perry, Power2Save & the Future of AST

I’ve just returned home from Madison, Wisconsin and the first event of the new AST Power2Save Initiative – an amazing night of rocking country music to raise money and awareness for the AST’s goals of advancing organ donation, public advocacy and research.

In a terrific venue near the University of Wisconsin campus and Health Center, The Band Perry, Joel Crouse and Scott MacIntyre gave their professional best to over 2,200 people. This concert event was over two years in the making and represents a remarkable effort of organization by the AST staff led by Tina Squillante and team. I also have to recognize our three incredibly generous partners: Astellas, Genentech, and Novartis. There are many others to thank and all are deserving of our appreciation and recognition.

While the final statistics are still being compiled, the Power2Save concert created over 500,000 interactions with households, country music fans, local and national companies and significant radio and TV coverage. And yes, it was a heck of a lot of fun. Power2Save, with this concert as the first mechanism, has evolved in the last year into a focus for something I believe is potentially transformational for the AST – the launching of a serious public outreach effort.

While my next blog post will take on the NIH funding crisis, the advance message is that there is little possibility of any change soon. As President, I have felt the tone of anxiety in our researchers transition to one of despair. The growing and depressing gap in research funding led to creation of the new AST Transplant Research Institute (TRI) last year. In parallel, our Pharma partners are dealing with the realities and uncertainties of health care reform and that has driven their contributions for funding the Society steadily down. This too will not change soon and we are grateful for everything they are doing. The challenges of developing new ways to do clinical trials of novel therapeutics led Dr. Roz Mannon (my predecessor as President) to engage the FDA and develop the Transplant Therapeutics Initiative (TTI) last year.

Our advocacy efforts are stronger and more impactful now than in the entire history of AST. We continue to drive education forward successfully with ATC, the Fellows Conference and the first CEOT meeting last year. Our powerful Communities of Practice are generating exciting new content via strategies like webinars and journal clubs. But these innovations all cost and our endowment is limited. Simple math says that we won’t be able to afford these efforts in the long term, especially considering our desire to increase innovation and support for research. So what happens when the money runs out?

We need to consider what we are willing to do to take control of our Society’s financial destiny and square that with what is possible. And the time to do that is when we are financially strong and can afford to invest in new ideas and accept the necessary risk. The time to do that is when there is no need to change or reinvent the AST. We are doing exactly what we should be doing and only getting better.

So where is the new money? We realized that there was an incredible opportunity represented by the generosity of the American people, who in truth are the real stakeholders for the success of almost everything we do as transplant professionals. It is much more than a job for most of us. We have not spent our efforts advocating for increased reimbursement. In fact, we generously invest AST funds and many long member hours to advocate for all our patients and their families, to optimize our practices and to educate ourselves and mentor trainees to be the future of American medicine.

We constantly work to enhance the success of organ donation and the efficacy of our therapies to improve graft survival. Our research efforts have made major contributions to modern genetics and pioneered the field of immunosuppression that now treats thousands of patients suffering with autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Our efforts deliver the miracle of transplantation to all Americans, every day and every night. And when we are successful, we return Americans to productive lives as workers in our industries, large and small, to be teachers, to be mothers and fathers again. Thus, not only do the American people have a very direct stake in our continued success but also so do American businesses.

Thus, in one sense the AST Power2Save Initiative began this Friday with a concert. But it is not a concert series. It is the start of a process to engage the American people in supporting the AST because it is in their best interest. We have to take the message of the “miracle of transplantation” and simply explain it to them – because our impact is only compelling if we can get them to listen.

There was a point Friday night in the concert that everyone held up their phones to create a thousand points of light waving to the music. I remember doing the same with a lighter at Grateful Dead concerts too many years ago, and it was an equally powerful moment. But it struck me that it was a moment with little tangible impact. Instead, I thought about what it would be like if everyone was given three cards.

  • The first would have the picture of a transplant recipient and a short story about who they are and what transplantation meant to their lives and families. There are almost 300,000 living Americans that could be on those cards!
  • The second card would have a picture of a donor that made such a miracle of life possible, some living and some deceased, and all should be remembered.
  • But the third card would have a picture of an AST member that explains what they are doing tirelessly to make it all possible.

The lights in the darkness give us a lot to think about, a lot for all Americans to be thankful for and a very good reason to generously support the AST to continue leading the way in public advocacy, medical research and organ donation. The AST Power2Save Initiative is a new mechanism to connect to the public and create such a powerful moment.

It is critical to emphasize that the AST Power2Save Initiative is just starting and will be shaped and refined by many over the next few years. We will make mistakes and hopefully learn from them and keep going forward. It must be rolled out cautiously and never distract the AST from our mission. We will need new partners with new expertise. Along the way, we will develop new ways of connecting ourselves to the real meaning of transplantation that I hope will benefit all of us.

What Power2Save will ultimately become remains hidden to me, and that should be true of any good adventure. In the meantime, let’s continue to light up the darkness.

Photo by Elise Romas, The Badger Herald

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