Sharing The Gift of Life … A Personal Choice

September 18, 2011

Feature, Health

By:  George Addison

The Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates is striving to increase the number of available donors. Photo Courtesy: KODA

Currently in the U.S., there are 112,165 individuals registered on the organ transplant list.  Over the years I have reported on, supported or personally known someone in need of / or benefiting from an organ or bone marrow transplant.  Like so many reporters, I only reported the facts and did not allow the story to get personal enough.  That all changed for me because of my mother-in-law, Nannie Hayes, and Lori Henry a 10 year-old girl from Miami, Florida who was in need of a heart-lung transplant.  Nannie received her kidney transplant in 1985, and in 1987 Lori was struggling to get on the transplant registry.  Nannie was waiting for a second transplant

Nannie Hayes of Louisville, Kentucky received her kidney transplant in 1985.

in 1998 when she passed away from complications due to diabetes.  Lori to my knowledge is now in her mid 30’s and is doing well.  Although I knew them both, I never really truly understood neither their daily plight nor the donor and registry process.

Each morning thousands of people like Nannie and Lori start their day the same as they did the day before, waiting for a life saving organ transplant.  They may be your mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors, other relatives or strangers.  The wait becomes more personal the closer the person is to you.  That’s when you fully understand how one person’s life can impact so many others.  That is why the choice to donate or register is so important.  Among this group minorities represent more than 55% of those in need.  In Kentucky, a partnership was formed between the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA) and Be The Match (formerly known as The National Marrow Donor Program).

The mission of both organizations is to save lives through transplantation and to increase the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry and the Be The Match Registry.  Their area of concentration includes the African American, Black and Latino populations.  Their goal is to address the common myths and misconceptions that are prevalent in minority communities such as; all donations require surgery?

The fact is that the majority of donations do not involve surgery.  Today the patient’s doctor most often requests a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, which is non-surgical.  The second way to donate is through marrow donation, which does require surgery.  In both cases donors typically go home the same day.

Another myth is that donating is painful and requires a long recovery?  The truth is, there can be uncomfortable but short-lived side effects of donating PBSC due to taking a drug called filgrastim for five days leading up to the donation.  PBSC donors could experience headaches, joint or muscle aches, or fatigue.  However, they are usually back to their normal routine in one to two days.


Amber McGuire, Minority Education Coordinator for the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates says, “The need for minority organs, and tissue and bone marrow donors is on the

Amber McGuire of KODA and Dannielle Moore of Be the Match work together to increase the number of available donors among minorities. Photo Courtesy: Amber McGuire and KODA

Be The Match (formerly known as The National Marrow Donor Program) are asking people to step up and register. Photo Courtesy: Be the Match

rise and is considered a public health crisis due to the lack of minority donors.  This, in part, is due to the fact that their understanding about the issue of donation is not where it needs to be related to how transplants actually take place and the misconceptions that abound in African American communities.

People pass down from generation to generation the idea that if you have money and power, and if you are not a minority you are likely to receive the transplant because of that status.

Or, that someone will let you die in order to come in and remove your organs and give them to someone else that may be in need.  In reality, none of these misconceptions are true.  The good news is that a single donor can save or improve the lives of more than 50 people.”

Over 730 Kentucky patients are registered on the U.S. organ transplant waiting list.  Tragically, every 11 minutes another patient is added to the waiting list while 18 people die each day due to the lack of organ donors.  The racial background and ethnic heritage are very important factors for organ and bone marrow donations.  Patients are most likely to match someone of their own race or ethnicity and transplantation success rates increase when organs are matched between donors and recipients of similar heritage.

Diabetes and hypertension occur with more frequency among minorities and are leading contributors in the demand for donors.  Statistically, minorities make up to 20% of the population.  More than 61,259 minorities are waiting twice as long for a life saving organ transplant.

Carolyn Henry Glaspy did not take any statistics into account when making the decision to donate her son’s organs.  Her son, Chris Henry, played five seasons in the National Football League (NFL) as a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengal’s football team.  On December 16th, 2009, Chris was involved in an accident where he fell out of the back of a moving truck and incurred serious injuries that resulted in his death.  I asked Ms. Glaspy, knowing the statistics concerning African-American donors, how was she able to make this difficult and very personal choice?

She simply replied, “It was because of Chris, he was a giver.  To see him and feel his heartbeat for the last time, let me know it was a decision that I couldn’t think twice about.  Knowing that it would save someone’s life, I can say that it was a decision I would make again.”  Ms. Glaspy donated Chris’s

The "Gift of Life" donor medal recognizes the many gifts one person can make through donation. Photo Courtesy: KODA

corneas, lungs, kidneys, heart, liver, and pancreas saving the lives of four people.

Carolyn Henry Glaspy donated the organs of her son Chris Henry a Cincinnati Bengal’s football star. The donation saved four lives. Photo Courtesy: Keith Allison

I went on to ask her how it felt to meet the recipients of Chris’s gift of life?  She said, “I just wanted to know who they were, what they were all about, their condition and if they were healthy.  I got the opportunity to meet them eleven months later and I saw how their lives had changed.

They got to be with their families and enjoy their grandkids again.  That was the most wonderful thing I could have ever done.  For people finding themselves in a similar situation, I would encourage them to make that choice, sign up and become a donor.  But tell your family you signed up so they will know you wanted to be a donor.

Don’t hide the decision, because one person can save many lives.  Through his gift Chris was able to save many lives across all ethnic groups.”  She further added, “ It doesn’t matter what ethnic group receives the gift, as long as you save someone’s life!  Everyone is a person, and knowing that those family members are part of me now.  I just love it; everyday I’m loving it.  We talk and I communicate with them.  We have a lot of things in common.”

Ms. Glaspy continues to spread that message whenever given the chance to share Chris’s story.  In recognition of her courage and efforts to

encourage others to give, the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA) honored her with the bronze Gift of Life Donor Medal, which depicts the many gifts that one person, is able to give to others through donation.

Barry Williams, a Chicago native who recently moved to Kentucky, signed up to be a donor nearly fifteen years ago and he made certain that when he moved to Kentucky that he remained on the organ donor list.  Williams said donating one’s organs is a personal choice and is something friends and family should respect.  I asked Mr. Williams what was it that encouraged him to register as a donor?

He replied, “When I was young and got my first I.D., the clerk asked me if I wanted to become an organ donor?   I looked at my mom and asked her what is that?  She basically explained to me that when you die; it’s a way for people to help others that need a heart, lung or any other organs from out of someone else’s body.  So, based on that initial explanation I made the decision to sign up on my own when I was old enough.”

Williams added, “I have seen so many family members and friends on their death bed and in many ways it helped me reconcile my fear of death.  I just want my legacy to be one of giving life as opposed to wasting it.  From time to time I watch that movie, “John Q” with Denzel Washington, and it reinforces my decision.  The movie scene where the lady passes away at the last minute to help the child live, just stays with me.  So, I don’t know where my organs are subject to end up, but if they can help anybody, an elderly person or young child that’s cool!  I would tell others that it’s not such a bad thing to donate your organs so others can live.  It’s a legacy worth sharing.

For more information on how you can register and make a difference in someone’s life visit the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliate  (KODA), and Be The Match website links.

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