Gearing up to make a difference: NASCAR driver helps raise organ donation awareness

Student Organ Donation Advocates partners with NASCAR driver Joey Gase at "Handprints of Hope." Zach Babajanof-Rustrian | Intern

By Zach Babajanof-Rustrian | Intern

NASCAR driver Joey Gase joined Student Organ Donation Advocates and Donate Life Texas to host “Handprints of Hope” Thursday at McLane Stadium. At the event, many families with loved ones who have donated organs shared their stories and discussed the importance of organ donation.

The ceremony means a lot to Gase, whose mother died from a brain aneurysm when he was 18 years old. Gase and his family decided to donate his mother’s organs, which helped save 66 people.

“We’ve been doing ‘Handprints for Hope’ since 2015,” Gase said. “It means a lot to have the handprints, the messages of hope and the honorary families on the car. It means a lot to me, and it means a lot to those families out there and those on the [organ] waitlist.”

Gase is participating in the Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, and his car now features a host of handprints from attendees of the event.

“When we get to the racetrack on Saturday, all the fans and all the crew members and all the other drivers are going to see the handprints and honoraries’ photos on the car,” Gase said. “And they are going to ask us why those are on there, and we get to tell them why donation is so important. That’s what’s so cool to be able to have handprints on my car.”

Two honorary children, who were organ donors, are included on the hood of the car: Omar Williams and Peyton James. At “Handprints of Hope,” both children’s parents spoke about what this means for them.

“I know that Peyton would be thrilled to hear that his face would be on a NASCAR,” Jackie James, Williams’ mother, said.

Alongside the crowd were members of Student Organ Donation Advocates, who helped coordinate the event. Houston junior and SODA president Ron Varghese spoke about his personal experience with organ donation.

“My dad had a liver transplant many years ago, and he was severely ill,” Varghese said. “He had a high chance of passing before getting an organ in time. Thankfully, he got an organ in time, but two people next to his ICU room passed away, not being able to get a donor in time. And because of that, I got to see firsthand [the] organ shortages.”

Because of his family’s experience, Varghese said he decided to help start the Baylor chapter of SODA in order to bring awareness to shortages and promote organ donor registration.

“As an organization that’s just getting started at Baylor, we are excited to work with Donate Life and TOSA so that we can get more outreach in the community — and not just impact people on Baylor’s campus, but also impact the general Waco community,” Missouri City junior and SODA member Alli Barton said.

Founded in 2005 by the Texas State Legislator, Donate Life Texas helps run the official organ, eye and tissue donation registry. According to the 2022 annual update, Donate Life Texas helped 14.3 million Texans register to be organ donors, and 3,224 organs were transplanted from 1,098 Texan donors.

“We have 10,000 Texans currently waiting for a transplant, and only approximately 60% of Texans are registered [organ donors],” Donate Life Texas executive director Chad Carroll said. “The need is great, and we really need folks to register.”

Those looking to register to be organ donors can go to the Donate Life Texas website or the DMV.

“We believe that no matter who you are at Baylor, you’re able to impact someone as a donor in ways that you can’t imagine,” Varghese said. “We sincerely believe that every person, no matter where you’re from, who you are, health issues do not matter, sign up as a donor. There is a way that transplant can be used to save other lives … and have a long-lasting legacy with the recipients.”