About ConnectLife

When was ConnectLife established?

On August 15, 2019, we announced that Unyts is now ConnectLife. This change came after two years of research we learned that although Unyts had strong name recognition, there was little awareness of everything our organization does to help our community. That is why we wanted a name that better represented what we do, which, at its core, is connecting families, neighbors, and communities. ConnectLife emerged as the name that was best associated with not only connecting people through blood, organ, eye, and tissue donation, but also conveying a sense of warmth, caring, optimism, and hope.

The organization was founded in 1981 as the Organ Procurement Agency of Western New York (OPAWNY). In 1993, OPAWNY merged with the Buffalo Eye Bank to form what was now known for many years as Unyts.

What does ConnectLife do?

ConnectLife is the federally designated Organ Procurement Organization for the eight counties of WNY. ConnectLife works to assist donor families, coordinate the donation process and increase knowledge and awareness within the community regarding transplantation. ConnectLife had 1,754 organ, eye, and tissue, and birth tissue donors in 2018 who potentially saved & enhanced 89,000 lives.

ConnectLife routinely has helped to secure higher rates of donation in Western New York than the national average. When approached following the death of a loved-one for organ donation, Western New York families are very generous. In 2018, the ConnectLife authorization rate was 76% – while the national average was 63.2%. Due to these numbers, ConnectLife is ranked as one of the top procurement organizations nationwide.

The ConnectLife Community Blood Service was started in 2007 under the premise that local hospitals had long been seeking an alternative with regard to obtaining blood. A subsequent feasibility study found that a community blood bank organized through ConnectLife was the best alternative. Since the inception of the blood program ConnectLife has had over 211,000 presenting blood donors.

Today, ConnectLife’s blood center has become an integral part of WNY’s medical community, providing the best blood products possible when area hospitals are in need. ConnectLife is able to react and quickly and efficiently provide blood needed to save someone’s life. ConnectLife is the primary supplier of blood products to Kaleida Health, ECMC, Brooks-TLC Health Network, Eastern Niagara Hospital, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Olean General Hospital, Wyoming County Community Health System and Bradford Regional Medical Center. This accounts for over 75% of the blood needs in WNY. 

Who is the CEO of ConnectLife?

ConnectLife is currently headed by President & CEO Mark J. Simon

Is ConnectLife a non-profit?

Yes, ConnectLife operates as a non-profit serving the eight counties of WNY. As a federally designated not-for-profit organ procurement organization and community blood bank, we save and enhance lives through organ, eye, tissue and blood donation. 

How do I apply for a job with ConnectLife?

Successfully responding to the needs of our blood donors, donor families, community partners and employees is paramount to us. We are an organization that cares. We look for people who C.A.R.E. If you are interested in learning more about career opportunities with ConnectLife please click here.

How can I get more information about ConnectLife?

If you have a question about ConnectLife or would like to request materials, such as-

  • Brochures
  • NYS Donate Life Registry enrollment cards
  • ConnectLife materials for a funeral, memorial service, wedding, fundraiser, etc.
  • A speaker at your school, work, place of worship or community group
  • An in-service at your health facility 

Please contact Sarah Diina at sdiina@connectlife.org or 716-529-4351.

About organ, eye and tissue donation

Is there a need for organ, eye, and tissue donors?

Yes! In the United States there are about 100,000 individuals waiting for transplants and many thousands more in need of tissue and corneal transplants. Sadly, an average of 22 people die each day because an organ was not made available for transplant. To enroll as a donor on the New York State Donate Life Registry click here.

Who can be a donor?

Age limitations may apply with some specific organs and tissues, but in general, anyone who wishes to donate should enroll as a donor on the New York State Donate Life Registry and have a family discussion. Donor suitability is determined at the time of death.

How do I become an organ and tissue donor?

The most important step in becoming a donor is to discuss your wishes with your immediate family members. They will be asked at the time of your death to give permission for your donation. After discussing your wishes with your family, enroll as a donor on the New York State Donate Life Registry by clicking here.

How do organ/tissue recovery programs learn of potential donors?

According to law, all hospitals in the US are required to notify their designated organ procurement organization of all deaths and imminent deaths. ConnectLife has a communication center that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to handle referrals from Western New York hospitals.

Will medical personnel work as hard to save me if they know I am a donor?

The quality of medical and nursing care will not change, regardless of your decision to be a donor. Doctors, nurses, and other personnel who treat patients at the time of death are in no way involved with transplant programs or possible recipients. Donation is considered only after every effort has been made to save the patient's life.

What is meant by brain death?

Brain death occurs in patients who have suffered a traumatic injury to the brain. As a result of the injury the brain swells and obstructs its own blood supply. Without blood flow, all brain tissue dies. Artificial support systems may maintain functions such as heartbeat and respiration for a few days, but not permanently. Brain death is an established medical and legal diagnosis of death. A physician can confirm brain death beyond a doubt, using a strict neurological examination. Click here for more information about brain death and cardiac death.

Will organ and tissue donation interfere with funeral arrangements or change the appearance of the donor's body?

Donation will not disfigure the body or change the way it looks in a casket. On rare occasions, there may be some swelling or discoloration at the recovery site. The funeral director can usually minimize this during preparation so that it is not noticeable during viewing. Most donations are performed in operating room conditions (cornea donations may be performed at bedside), and the body is treated with the same care as a surgery patient.

After donation surgery, the body is carefully reconstructed to normal appearance and donation coordinators -- the professionals who handle arrangements for the donation -- provide funeral directors with detailed information so the body can be prepared for burial. There are no obvious stitches and donation won't usually interfere with funeral plans including open casket services.

Will donation delay the funeral?

In general, organ and tissue donation must take place within 12 to 24 hours after a declaration of death. Most donations are completed sooner. Immediately after the donation surgery, the body is released to the funeral service. The donation may add a few hours to the process but should not delay funeral plans.

Is donation against my religious beliefs?

Most major religions support donation as an act of human kindness in keeping with religious teachings. People are often unaware of the attitudes of their faith toward donation; they may be misled by old superstitions or misreadings of religious texts. If you have questions about your particular faith’s view on donation you may wish to discuss them with a clergy member or spiritual advisor.

How are patients needing organs identified to the recovery team?

All 50 states have patients needing an organ transplant listed on a national computer system. This national network provides 24 hour access to the list of patients awaiting lifesaving transplants.

Can organs/tissues be transplanted between sexes and races?

Yes. The determining factors in identifying a possible recipient are the matching of blood type and body size between the donor and the recipient. There is no matching required for tissue transplants.

How long must a patient wait for a transplant?

The time a patient spends on the waiting list for an organ transplant can vary from a few days to several years. The length of their wait is affected by several factors, such as the urgency of their medical condition and the availability of donated organs. Tissue banks have a very limited supply of donated skin, bone, heart valves, tendons and corneas. All patients awaiting an organ or tissue transplant depend upon the generosity of donors and their families to give the gift of life.

Will my family have to pay if I am a donor?

No. Donation is a gift; it costs the donor family nothing. All the costs associated with the recovery of donated organs and tissues are charged to the donor program, then passed on to the transplant center which bills the recipient and his or her insurer. These costs account for only about 12% of the transplant recipient's total bill. Most of the expense is generated by the transplant procedures: hospital costs, surgeons' and doctors' fees, medication, and aftercare. The donor's family is responsible for the costs of medical treatment prior to death and for funeral expenses, just as they would be if there were no donation.

Isn't it cruel to talk to a grieving family about donation?

A number of in-depth studies of families who have donated organs and tissues clearly show that donation can provide immediate comfort and long-lasting consolation. Even families that decide not to donate report they appreciated the opportunity to choose. Studies also indicate that families may experience anger and frustration if they are not given information about donation. Donation tends to give families a sense that something positive has resulted from an otherwise tragic loss -- especially when the donor is young and death is unexpected. Donation will not lessen a family’s grief, but it can be a tangible tribute to the individual they have lost.

Can I sell my organs?

No. It is a federal crime, under the National Organ Transplant Act (Public Law 98-507) to sell organs. The punishment for violating the law is a fine up to $50,000 and/or a maximum of five years imprisonment. Publicity about people raising money for transplants can create the false impression that they are trying to buy organs. In fact, these are usually uninsured patients and their families who are seeking funds to meet the financial requirements of the transplant program.

Do celebrities and rich people receive priority in receiving organs?

No. Factors such as race, gender, age, income, or celebrity status are never considered when determining who receives an organ. The organ allocation and distribution system is based on many factors including blood type, length of time on the waiting list, severity of illness and other medical criteria. There is no way to buy a place on the waiting list.

Will the identity of the recipients be revealed to the donor family?

Occasionally a donor family will correspond directly with or even meet an individual transplanted with their loved one's organ or tissue, but only after both parties have expressed written intention to do so. Typically the identity of the donor and the recipients are kept confidential. ConnectLife provides the donor's family with basic information about the recipients such as age, sex, profession, and general location. The donor families and transplant recipients may correspond anonymously through the procurement organization and transplant center.

How is brain death determined?

A physician performs a series of tests to determine whether or not brain death has occurred. Death is indicated if the patient - cannot breathe without assistance, has no pupil response to light, has no response to pain.

Why does the heart continue to beat?

The heart has its own pacemaker, independent of the brain. With oxygen, the heart will continue to beat.

Would removing the respiratory support from a patient be the same as not giving him or her all possible chances for survival?

Once the patient is brain dead, he or she is dead because the brain will not recover. Respiratory support equipment only keeps the heart beating, supplying the vital organs with oxygen.

Does the body of a brain dead patient sometimes begin to deteriorate even if the patient is on life support?

The failure of many organs begins soon after brain death.

Does the patient feel any pain during donation?

No, the person is dead and no longer feels pain.

What is recorded time of death?

The recorded time of death is when the patient is declared dead, not when the heart actually stops beating. There are no clinically documented cases where a patient was declared brain dead and later restored to a normal life. Federal regulations mandate that all families of brain dead patients be offered the option of organ and tissue donation.

What does cardiac death mean?

Cardiac death means the patient is without oxygen. His or her heart has stopped beating. Tissue and eye donation are options after cardiac death has occurred. Some of the options for donation are cornea and sclera, and tissues that include bone, heart valves, veins, skin, and soft connective tissues, such as tendons.

Can somebody donate organs after cardiac death?

In some instances, a person may donate organs after cardiac death has occurred. For non-heart beating organ donation to occur the following circumstances must exist:

* A patient has suffered devastating and unrecoverable brain damage resulting in ventilator dependency;

* The family has decided to withdraw mechanical ventilation;

* Death from cardiac and respiratory arrest will occur within one hour following withdrawal of mechanical support.

* In this situation, organ recovery would occur only after support is withdrawn and after cardiac death is pronounced.

About community blood donation

Is it safe to donate blood?

Yes. The supplies used to collect your blood are sterile and only used once. You cannot get HIV or any other infectious disease from donating blood.

How does the blood donation process work?

Just as the Gift of Life can take the form of a life-saving organ, it can also take the form of a critical blood transfusion, and ConnectLife is the organization offering Western New Yorkers the opportunity to save and enhance the lives of neighbors – whether through organ, eye, tissue, or community blood donation.
It’s a simple thing to do that takes less than an hour. Just think, potentially saving the life of up to 3 people takes less time than it takes to watch a television show.
There are 4 easy steps to blood donation-
Registration: Photo ID must be presented prior to donation to identify you at every donation.
Interview: to determine if you are all right to donate we will ask questions about health, travel and medicines.
Mini-physical: Take your blood pressure, temperature and pulse. Take a small blood sample to make sure you are not anemic
Phlebotomy: Blood donation takes 5-15 minutes.

How much blood do I have in my body?

Women have about 10 pints, and men about 12 pints of blood in their bodies.

How much blood is taken?

Whole blood and platelet donations are about 1 pint. One pint is roughly equal to 1 pound.

How long will it take to replenish the pint of blood I donate?

The plasma from your donation is replaced within about 24 hours. Red cells need about four to six weeks for complete replacement. That’s why at least eight weeks are required between whole blood donations.

How often can I donate?

You can donate whole blood every 56 days. Red blood cells are the oxygen carrying cells. They can take two weeks or longer to fully return to normal.
You can donate platelets every two weeks. Platelet and plasma components are replaced in the body more quickly than red cells. Platelets will return to normal levels within a few hours of donating.
You can donate double red cells every 112 days. Three annul donations will provide the same number of life-saving red cell transfusions as six visits.

Are there age limits for blood donation?

You must be 17 years old to donate blood, or 16 years old with parental permission to donate.
Learn more about donor eligibility here.

How long do I have to wait to donate blood after getting a flu shot?

There is no deferral time for any influenza vaccine, including vaccines for seasonal influenza and H1N1. 

What is the universal blood type?

Type O negative is the universal donor and can give blood to any other blood type. Eight percent of the U.S. population has O negative blood.
AB positive is the universal recipient and can receive blood from any other blood type. Two and a half percent of the U.S. population has AB positive blood.
Learn more about donating the right type for your type here.

Can I get paid for my blood donation?

We do not provide compensation for any type of donation, including plasma. 

Are health history questionnaires necessary every time I donate?

Yes. ConnectLife must screen donors at each donation. This is an FDA requirement.

Is the ConnectLife Community Blood Service affiliated with the American Red Cross?

No. ConnectLife is Western New York’s ONLY community blood center. In 2005, ConnectLife, then Unyts, was approached by area hospitals looking for a cost-effective alternative for purchasing blood.  By collecting, processing and distributing all the blood locally, ConnectLife’s Community Blood Service has already saved local hospitals over $10 million. 

Since beginning collections in June 2007, ConnectLife is the primary supplier of blood products to Kaleida Health, ECMC, Brooks-TLC Health System, Dunkirk, Eastern Niagara Hospital, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Olean General Hospital, Wyoming County Community Health System and Bradford Regional Medical Center. This accounts for over 75% of the blood needs in WNY. Our local hospitals need to maintain an adequate supply of blood for emergency situations and it is up to ConnectLife and the generosity of our donors to help provide safe levels of blood inventory.

ConnectLife is affiliated with America's Blood Centers (ABC), North America's largest network of community-based, independent blood programs. Recognized by the U.S. Congress for its critical work in patient care and disaster preparedness and response, the federation provides half of the U.S. blood supply and operates more than 600 blood donor collection sites.

The blood centers that are part of ABC, including ConnectLife, serve more than 150 million people and provide blood products and services to more than 3,500 hospitals and healthcare facilities across North America. ABC’s U.S. members are licensed and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.          

LGBTQ+ donation

Can someone who is LGBTQ+ be an eye and tissue donor?

Yes, but there is a male-to-male sex deferral policy which could prevent a man who has been sexually active with a man in the past 12 months from donating his tissues or corneas. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates tissue and cornea donation, and ConnectLife is mandated to follow FDA policy for cornea and tissue donation.

Can someone who is LGBTQ+ be an organ donor?

Yes, a person’s sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression does NOT prevent that person from becoming an organ donor (deceased or living). We encourage every person to register their decision to be an organ donor at ConnectLife.org/Register

Can someone who is LGBTQ+ receive an organ transplant?

Yes, a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity or expression have no determination over whether they receive an organ transplant. Our team at ConnectLife matches available organs from the donor with people on the waiting list based on blood type, body size, how sick they are, donor distance, tissue type and time on the list. Sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, race, income, celebrity and social status are never considered.

Why we rebranded

How can the public help in this transition?

Share on social media! All of our social media handles and profiles have changed. You will be able to find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as @WeConnectLife and on LinkedIn as @ConnectLife. Share our upcoming posts about the rebrand on your own social media pages.

Also, talk with your family and friends to help spread the word.

Is ConnectLife one word or two?

ConnectLife is one word, with the C and L always capitalized.

Why are we evolving our brand?

After two years of research, we learned that although Unyts had strong name recognition, there was little awareness of everything our organization does to help our community. Although, we aren’t just changing our name; we are evolving our brand to better tell the story of how we help save and enhance the lives of our neighbors. 

Why did we choose ConnectLife?

We wanted a name that better represented what we do, which, at its core, is connecting families, neighbors, and communities. ConnectLife emerged as the name that was best associated with not only connecting people through blood, organ, eye, and tissue donation, but also conveying a sense of warmth, caring, optimism, and hope.

Will a name change help people better understand what we do?

As part of our brand evolution, we are developing communications to better educate people about the impact we make and also strengthen our current network of supporters and increase understanding and, hopefully, participation for those who aren’t currently aware of our services and mission.

Won’t this confuse people who already know us as Unyts?

We don’t want people to think we’re a new organization, but the same trusted organization reborn with a greater effort to encourage our community to get involved. Specifically, we will not be dismissing the great work we all did as Unyts, but instead positioning ConnectLife as a path forward. To ensure that our transitional message is clear and direct, our communications will say “Unyts is now ConnectLife.”