John Conairis of Dayton, who underwent a heart transplant eight years ago, was among those urging people to ‘donate life,’ and enroll in the organ and tissue donor registry at an event Friday at Biddeford City Hall. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — John Coniaris, who is 59 1/2 years old, is looking forward to his next birthday, and the one after that, and the one after that, and many more in the future.

He’s having birthdays that he would likely not otherwise have had because  eight years, four months and 11 days ago, he got a new heart; thanks to a person who had signed an organ and tissue donation card.

Coniaris had cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that makes it hard for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. He said he felt fine when was at his doctor’s office for a physical. After mentioning that his father had the disease,  the doctor to order an EKG, which found that he had it, too.

Coniaris waited two years for a new heart, and during that period, his health deteriorated. He was in a wheelchair before he got the call that there was a new heart for him, he said.

Several people got together to urge people to register to become organ donors during an event Friday at Biddeford City Hall, including, from the left, Melanie Peffer of New England Donor Services, volunteer David Gluck of Lyman, Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant, Matt Bogor of NEDS, Liz Sandeman of the Lion’s Club Organ Donor Committee and heart transplant recipient John Coniaris of Dayton. Tammy Wells Photo

Coniaris was at Biddeford City Hall on Friday — Valentine’s Day — along with several others, to urge people to “have a heart” and enroll in the Maine Door Registry when applying or renewing their driver’s license or by registering online at: www.RegisterME.org.

The Dayton resident said he’s feeling great these days. He’s getting to see his children and grandchildren.

“It’s a wonderful thing to do,” he said of organ donation.

Matt Boger of New England Donor Services, the organization that coordinates organ and tissue donation for New England and Bermuda, noted that in Maine, 54 percent of drivers have signed up to become organ donors trough the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and he and others would like to see that number increase.

More than 5,500 people in New England are awaiting an organ transplant, Boger said. About 22 people across the country die daily awaiting an organ or tissue donation.

Boger and others are asking people to sign up so that someone might benefit from their organs and tissue upon their death. He said all religions support organ donation, and any medical history is acceptable.

Also speaking Friday was David Gluck of Lyman, whose father Kenneth, a physician, died in 2006 while awaiting a liver transplant. He had been placed on the donation list at the end of January that year. David had undergone testing to become a living donor, but that wasn’t to be – his father died on April 1, 2006.

“I had always supported organ donation, but this really hit home,” said Gluck, so he decided to get involved with encouraging people to register to become an organ donor at their demise.

Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant, who read a proclamation supporting organ donation, said he had a friend who had a heart issue when in his 30s and received a transplant.

“When we saw him back in his business, it meant so much to us,” he said.

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