Mark Scotch loads his bicycle up in Canal Place to take it to Herkimer for repairs during “The Organ Trail” 1,600-mile journey that he’s on.

by Dave Warner

In case you didn’t know, The Organ Trail (Not the Oregon Trail) runs through Little Falls. At least it did last week Monday when Mark Scotch cycled through the City on his 1,600-mile journey from Massachusetts to Wisconsin.

Scotch’s second Organ Trail began Sunday, Sept. 19, in Martha’s Vineyard. And from there, he traveled into New York City, went through upstate New York, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and will come back to his hometown in central Wisconsin, arriving home Saturday, Oct. 16th.

He said that the story starts like some kind of joke, “Guy meets a guy in a bar, but the main thing we’re trying to get across is the changes in the transplant community. You don’t have to be a match with anybody, but you can become part of this pool of people who want to donate a kidney. You’ll match up with somebody in that pool.”

Scotch said that they’ve created what amounts to a voucher program and that’s the main point he wants to get across. “The more I learned about donation through my own curiosity and how to handle my donation, the more I discovered these stats. I read one that just blew me away. Thirteen people die every day waiting for a kidney in this country alone. I just assumed that everybody who needed a kidney got one somehow.”

Most of us are donors through our driver’s licenses, and he thought that was enough to handle what was needed. “Then I found out that only three out of 1,000 people that die have organs that can be used. So all these little facts started popping up at me.”

Scotch started thinking about a bike ride, and how he could make it an awareness ride. He contacted the National Kidney Registry because their website seemed to provide the most information on the need and how to go about it.

“The thing I really want to get out to people is not about the guy who rides the bike, but that people need to know that the logistics are not as difficult as they once were.”

He said that if ten people step forward to donate a kidney for someone that they know, the odds are that not one of them will be a match. However, those are ten volunteers that might be a match for someone else. “We want all those people. If they’re willing to donate, we want to get them in this pool.”

The first step he said, is to find out if you’re healthy enough to donate through an evaluation. Then, you get your information on this national registry, which has an algorithm that matches donors to those who are in need. “People who are in that database all across the United States will be advised of the best match.”

“If it doesn’t find a good enough match, it will wait until it finds what they consider is the perfect match,” he said.

He said that when he found out about this matching system, he was in. “The whole message is just that simple… just have enough curiosity to read about the voucher program on the National Kidney Registry, and you’ll pick up everything else from there.”

Scotch says that if you educate yourself, you just might be able to save somebody’s life. The kidney that he donated ended up going to someone in New York, which is what inspired his idea to ride and raise awareness.

The ride started in Marthas Vineyard because Scotch was invited to a conference there and he figured he’d just ride home. “Logistically it felt so much better, so that’s how I ended up in Little Falls.”

“I started to plot out my maps and I started tracking miles out. On my first segments, I was doing 100 miles a day and that was too much, especially since I wanted to get media involved. So I wanted more time in each location,” he stated.

Little Falls worked out to be the best spot for him to stop, based on the miles he wanted to cover each day. “I have a buddy riding with me and we stayed in Troy. He likes to camp and he met some people who had stayed here (in Little Falls). They told him it was fantastic, and it just worked out for us to stay here.”

Scotch said that his buddy camped at Rotary Park and he and his wife stayed at the Inn at Stone Mill. “We’re really glad we got the opportunity to come here. It’s a great little town.”

About The Organ Trail

Scotch’s story began in early 2020 when he met Hugh Smith, 56, a former professional horse jockey, at Cane River Brewing in Smith’s hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Scotch learned that during his days as a jockey, Smith suffered frequent injuries. To combat the pain, he took ibuprofen for an extended period of time. This damaged his kidneys, sending him into severe renal failure in 2019 and requiring him to have daily dialysis. This also put him alongside nearly 100,000 Americans waiting for a life-saving kidney.

Just the day before, the two men had been strangers. That day, Scotch knew what he wanted to do: give one of his kidneys to Smith.

Although Scotch’s kidney wasn’t a direct match for Smith, he still wanted to donate a kidney to someone who needed one. Through the National Kidney Registry Voucher Program, he became a “voucher donor” where he would be matched with a recipient somewhere in the country. Once the kidney donation was complete, Scotch could also name Smith as the person he wanted to benefit, which would give the former jockey higher priority on the National Kidney Registry transplant list.

Full details of this 1,600-mile kidney donation awareness journey can be found on Facebook at The Organ Trail. The page also features educational content about becoming a kidney donor or contributing to causes and organizations that support kidney health.

Additional information about The Organ Trail and living kidney donation can be found at NKDO-The Organ Trail.