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Originally published: 2014-04-12 16:43:32
Last modified: 2014-04-12 16:44:17

A WAY TO GIVE BACK

by Sherrie Norris

When Boone native Betsy Jones Walsh donated a kidney to her sister nearly 20 years ago, she had no idea that she would one day help lead the organization known as the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network/United Network for Organ Sharing.

Walsh, who is vice president and deputy general counsel with the Charlotte-based Novant Health Inc., was recently elected vice president/president-elect of the OPTN/UNOS board of directors.

According to organization spokeswoman Anne Paschke, Walsh becomes the first person elected to the post who is neither a clinical professional in organ donation or transplantation.  

"It's a great honor for me to serve in this role, and shows the willingness of the transplant community to value and trust the input of transplant patients and living donors," Walsh said. "It will help build further trust with members of the general public, who support transplantation through their commitment to donate."

The UNOS, based in Richmond, Va., administers the OPTN under contract with the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The OPTN is a public-private partnership that links all of the professionals involved in the donation and transplantation system.
The primary goals of the OPTN are to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of organ sharing and equity in the national system of organ allocation, and to increase the supply of donated organs available for transplantation.

Walsh's one-year term as vice president will begin in July with service on the organization's executive committee and the UNOS' corporate affairs committee. She will assume the post of the organization's president in July 2015.
 
Previously, she served on the OPTN/UNOS board of directors and its executive committee, and the membership and professional standards committee. She also spearheaded an effort to rewrite OPTN bylaws in plain language.

Her service on the UNOS board was inspired by lessons she learned growing up in Boone, Walsh said. "My parents set an example for my two sisters and me by getting involved in the community to make a positive difference. In the 1970s, my mother, Elaine Jones, was concerned about our education so she ran for Watauga County school board. She not only became the first woman on the board, but garnered enough votes to serve as chair."

After her mother completed her service on the school board, she continued to be active in the schools, working to establish a girl's high school track team and raise funds for a track.

"During a busy career as chair of the accounting department and as athletic director at App State, my father, Jim Jones, found time to remain active and serve as a leader in organizations as disparate as the Lion's Club and the Southern Conference," Walsh said. "They both still set a shining example of the importance of community service as active volunteers at the local hospital. I learned early in life that if you want to make a difference, you have to get involved."

Growing up in Boone, Walsh was a student at Hardin Park Elementary School and graduated from Watauga High School.

She earned a doctor of jurisprudence degree from Wake Forest University and a master's degree in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also completed a postdoctoral fellowship in health services research at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte.

She is a frequent lecturer and presenter on legal and health care issues.  She is also a co-author of a number of journal articles evaluating the health care experiences of low-income patients, including those enrolled in Medicaid.

"My involvement with UNOS is an intensely personal one," Walsh said. "Nearly 20 years, after donating a kidney to my sister, Judy Jones Tisdale, I vividly recall the complex, and often conflicting, array of emotions that accompanied my family's journey through transplantation."

She will never forget the outstanding health care team that guided her family safely through its first serious encounter with the health care system.

"My service to UNOS is a way to give back to those dedicated men and women, while representing and serving as a voice for the diverse community of patients, donors and their families," she said. "I am honored and humbled to be the first patient elected to the vice president/president-elect position. I hope my involvement will make a positive difference for other patients, both recipients and donors."

Walsh's service to the UNOS board followed that of her sister, Judy, who also represented other UNOS committees.
 
"Judy is also actively involved in volunteer efforts to increase organ donation on the UNC Chapel Hill campus, where she is on the faculty," Walsh said. 

For more information about the organization, visit http://www.unos.org.