Purdue HTM alumnus facilitates live-saving missions for organ donation through Nationwide Organ Recovery Transport Alliance

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa, rhoffa@purdue.edu

Garrett White stands on the steps of a plan that reads "NORA — Nationwide ORgan Recovery Transport Alliance."

Garrett White(Photo provided)

A call comes in the middle of the night: A donor has been found for a gravely ill patient in need of a transplant. Garrett White, a Purdue University College of Health and Human Sciences (HHS) alumnus and executive director of aviation programs at the Nationwide Organ Recovery Transport Alliance (NORA), and his team spring into action, setting off a series of well-timed logistics to get the vital organ to its destination.

For White, this is just another day on the job. For the patient whose life that organ saves, it’s an unforgettable experience.

“It’s a truly rewarding thing,” White said. “There are very few things that you can get me to wake up for at 3 o’clock in the morning, but if I know it’s going to help save someone’s life, I’m in for it.”

White is a 2014 graduate of the White Lodging-J.W. Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM), having majored in hospitality and tourism management. While White doesn’t claim to have taken a “traditional” hospitality route in a restaurant or hotel, starting his career at a technology startup in Chicago and branching into recruiting and sales before discovering a career at NORA, he notices himself using the skills he developed in HTM every day.

“I spend a lot of time working with our clients,” White said. “That’s what keeps me driven in this industry. Our job is unique in that it plays into a lot of the skills that you hone in the hospitality industry, but it’s learning how to utilize those skills while you’re on the phone versus doing it in person.”

While White was more focused on the hotel and restaurant side of the industry as an undergraduate, he has also noticed many of the skills that students gain in the event and meeting management minor play well into the industry.

“We get a phone call for a case, and the information we get is very basic; how many people are going, what organ they’re going to get and what time the operation is, and we have to build a comprehensive timeline. When do we have to pick them up from the hospital to take them to the airport? What time does that plane need to take off to get from point A to point B? How long is it going to take them to get from point B to the donor hospital?” White said. “There’s a lot of logistical planning involved with our business that pairs really well with what you would learn on both the event-planning side and the hospitality side. It’s a dance, and you have to dance it right.”

White has had many interests throughout his life, from aviation to emergency services to hotel and restaurant management, but choosing a hospitality major in college seemed like the right path for him. He was first exposed to the industry when he took over running a concession stand for a private baseball club in his hometown of Wheaton, Illinois, in high school. Even though he was only a teenager, he took the organization from approximately $2,000 in seasonal revenue to over $20,000.

“That was my first exposure to hospitality, coming into that organization and growing it,” White said. “I had always kind of wanted to get into the restaurant and hotel business, so I started browsing around, and Purdue was ranked No. 1 for hospitality in the country.”

Although White has been away from Purdue for a decade, he noted his connections remain strong, from coworkers who are fellow Purdue HTM graduates to connections with clients such as 34 Lives, an organization located in the Purdue Research Park. The firm is committed to saving the lives of patients awaiting kidney transplant by providing innovative solutions that can give hard-to-place kidneys a second chance and enough time to make it to a waiting patient. The company works collaboratively with HHS’ School of Health Sciences and the Life Science MRI Facility in this effort of rescuing the kidneys.  

Because having a positive influence on the health outcomes of patients is such a significant part of White’s role, he noted he often wonders about the outcomes of the organ transfers. However, those survivor stories typically go untold.

“The hardest part about our job is we rarely figure out what the end result was: Did the person survive; what were the outcomes of the surgery?” White said. “I live with the dream that all of them work.”

White reflected that without taking a chance on a new career path in starting at NORA, he never would have gotten many of the opportunities and chances to grow that the company has afforded him. Because of this, his advice to HTM students is simple: Take the leap.

“You never know what doors you’re going to open,” White said. “I think just having that open mind and being willing to find comfort in the uncomfortable is a huge thing. There’s a lot of opportunities that were presented to me when I was at Purdue, and now I get to be that person tapping someone else on the shoulder, saying, ‘That opportunity you were just offered? Take it.’ I think there are a lot of elements that go unnoticed where people are learning these soft skills that are applicable down so many avenues.”

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