February 14 is National Donor Day in the United States, a day to celebrate and promote the life-giving practice of organ donation.
With a thirst for learning and a drive to think big and be bold, EO members personify the transformative power of the entrepreneurial mindset. So it’s no surprise that Dave Galbenski, former EO Global Chair and 24-year member of EO Detroit, is leveraging his entrepreneurial vision, combined with the power of personal experience, to make life-saving changes to the world.
In 2013, Dave faced a life-altering medical diagnosis: primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a rare autoimmune disease that attacked his liver’s bile ducts. With no known cure, the condition requires a liver transplant to get a second chance at life.
He was just 44, and married with a 13-year-old daughter. The diagnosis thrust Dave into a battle for survival, but it also ignited a profound realization – that entrepreneurial skills don’t just grow businesses; they can also give the gift of life.
Dave was listed on the transplant waitlist on February 14, 2019.
“In the US, 17 people on the transplant list die each day, waiting for an available organ from a deceased donor,” Dave explained. “However, there’s another option for people who need a liver or kidney: Living donors.”
The liver is the only human organ that regenerates. When a living donor donates a portion of their liver to a patient on the transplant waitlist, the liver will regenerate to full size in both the donor and recipient in eight weeks. Think about how amazing that is!
“Seeking a living donor required me to embrace the power of vulnerability,” Dave continued. “I had to overcome any negative thoughts of not being worthy of the love that would be expressed to me through someone willing to sacrifice themselves for my benefit.”
Dave’s brother-in-law, Mark Dybis, was a match. “Mark became my angel on earth — my hero. He stepped forward to give me the greatest gift possible: The ability to experience a future with the people I love.”
As the EO member leader who coined the EO term “insta-macy” to describe the immediate connection EOers feel when engaged with the EO community, Dave experienced the most profound form of insta-macy through Mark’s living liver donation.
“I have never experienced an emotion so deep, a connection so strong, and a gratitude so overwhelming — ever in my life,” Dave said.
A new philosophy of life
“Facing my own mortality at a fairly young age caused me to choose to always embrace and live with an abundance mentality instead of scarcity mentality,” Dave shared. That meant living a full life focused on the present, not concerned with past challenges while never losing hope for a full and productive life in the future.
Dave also gained a renewed sense of gratitude and purpose, which fueled his mission to increase public awareness and access to living organ donation.
On February 14, 2022, three years to the date after first being listed on the transplant list, Dave and his wife, Lynn, launched the Living Liver Foundation (LLF) with the purpose of increasing the number of liver transplants in the US by increasing awareness of living donor liver transplants among the general public as well as potential donors and recipients. Winnie Hart, former Global Board Director and EO Houston member, and her team at Twin Engine worked passionately to develop and launch the Living Liver Foundation brand.
In addition to the foundation, Dave was determined to pass legislation in Michigan to reduce the financial and economic barriers for living donors that may deter them from saving the life of another.
Passing legislation to make living organ donation more accessible
Dave leaned into his entrepreneurial mindset and experience as he approached the legislative process, advocating for policies that would make organ donation more accessible.
“I fully engaged my curious side to gather as much information as possible. I leveraged “Gestalt” protocol (Forum mindset) to reach out to my network and ask others to share their experience with the legislative process,” Dave said. “I also focused on putting myself in the place of most potential that would allow me do the advocacy needed to get the bill passed.”
Michigan Senate Bill 0384,which prevents insurance companies from denying coverage, increasing premiums or discriminating in any way against living donors with respect to life, disability and long-term care insurance in the state, passed in November 2023. Now, Dave is advocating for a tax credit for living donors’ unreimbursed expenses and lost wages and an employer tax credit for wages paid to the living donor after all leave policies of the company have been exhausted.
Dave’s entrepreneurial skills were instrumental in both his own journey and also in paving the way for others to receive the gift of life through organ donation.
The US national database for organ transplant, UNOS, reports that living liver transplants in Michigan nearly doubled from 2022 to 2023 – from 8 living liver transplants in 2022 to 15 in 2023!
“I’ll take that growth rate year over year,” Dave stated. “While we certainly can’t draw causal lines directly to our efforts, I love that our awareness campaigns that started when Mark and I first shared our story on our 1-year transplant anniversary in 2020 and accelerated when we formed the Living Liver Foundation in 2022, coincide with the increase.”
Increasing public awareness of living organ donation
“In the United States alone, 10,000 individuals are waiting for a liver transplant today. The goal is to get that number down to a waitlist of zero in the next decade so no one perishes waiting for the availability of an organ from a deceased donor,” Dave said.
Dave, a lifelong baseball fan, has a clear vision for achieving that goal. In 2023, Dave and the LLF worked to get April 11 designated as National Living Donor Day. Simultaneously, Dave and LLF formed partnerships with major league baseball teams. By designating major league baseball games held on April 11 as “Living Donor Awareness Games,” Dave is making significant strides toward his ultimate goal: A world where every country celebrates zero waitlists for organ transplants. Dave’s vision of this ultimate goal is clear, in 2038, at the World Baseball Classic final, the stands will be packed with a thunderous global crowd feverishly waving their country flags, celebrating a waitlist of zero in all participating countries.
In 2024, three major league baseball teams – Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies – will host Living Donor Awareness Games on April 10 and 11, to honor living donors and spread awareness about living organ donation.
Dave’s story highlights the profound impact of the entrepreneurial mindset on both personal and societal levels. By embracing vulnerability, leveraging networks, and living with purpose, Dave has not only transformed his life, but also created positive change that extends far beyond.
Recognizing beauty in the journey
“The thing that surprised me most was my realization that there was a beauty in the diagnosis and journey in that it allowed me at a fairly young age to recognize the beauty of each and every moment that we are gifted and that in those moments I needed to always be present and be available,” Dave shared.
“This decade-long journey has enriched my life, my relationships, clearly defined my ‘why’ and purpose in life,” he continued. “When people ask me if I could wave a magic wand and make my diagnosis and subsequent transplant all go away, my response is always an emphatic “No!”
“I say no, because my life has been so enriched by the immense gratitude for life I experience each day, the special moments that are sweeter because of the journey, and the impact I am able to make for the greater good of the world through my learnings as an entrepreneur and through EO.”
Contributed to EO by Dave Galbenski, an EO Detroit member who served as EO Global Chair in 2008-2009. He is a graduate of the inaugural class of EO’s Global Speakers Academy. Dave is co-founder and chairman of the Global School of Entrepreneurship, which provides education for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs. Dave and his wife, Lynn, founded the Living Liver Foundation, which is dedicated to increasing the awareness of living donor liver transplant.