Saturday, January 05, 2008

You Want A Piece Of Me (Part 2)?

Yesterday, my brother Dee and I had the honor of meeting Everson Walls (pictured above with us) the former four time all-Pro Dallas Cowboys football player who recently acquired national level media attention for yet another albeit different display of how spectacular he really is.

Mr. Walls made headlines almost a year ago when he donated his kidney to friend and former Dallas Cowboys teammate Ron Springs in a transplant surgery which was similar to the one my brother and I were preparing to undergo in July 2006 when I wrote this post from which the title of today's post was spun off. Mr. Walls was in St. Louis in support of legislation being introduced in Washington D.C. by Missouri Congressman William Lacy Clay (pictured below with me and Dee). At the request of the transplant department at Barnes-Jewish Christian Hospital where Dee and I underwent our surgeries a year and a half ago, my brother and I participated in a luncheon and press conference to introduce this legislation where we and seven other families shared our own transplant stories.

Many of you who have followed this blog have commented on how impressed you were by our story. I now feel the type of awe many of you bestowed upon us after hearing some of the stories of the other families in attendance.

There was the mother of four who told of having her then 2 year old son suffer complete and sudden liver failure as a consequence of being given an over-the-counter medication to treat a simple cold. This otherwise healthy two year old was suddenly critically ill and required a liver transplant in order to live. Imagine the flood of emotion we all felt as this mother introduced us all to an obviously healthy 9 year old, rubbing his head and telling us that "her baby" as she referred her son much to his chagrin had received a successful liver transplant and was still thriving and growing strong 7 years later!

On the flip side of the equation, one of the most emotional moments of the entire event occurred as a well-dressed African-American gentleman stood to tell his story. He told of a day when his 9 year old daughter Jasmine, better known as Jazzy suffered a tragic asthma attack from which she did not recover. He shared that the spirit and character that defined his daughter dictated that her parents make the crucial decision of donating her organs and eligible body tissues for transplantation. I believe the Bible alerts us that "a child shall lead them". What an amazing way to create beauty from the most tragic event that could ever possibly present itself to any parents. From their generous gift, 40-50 patients were able to receive life-saving organ and tissue transplants that have enabled them to lead healthy and productive lives.

I cried as this story was shared, and after the press conference ended, I made a point to meet these beautiful people personally to share with them how brilliantly beautiful I felt they made the tragedy of their daughter's death. I asked them how long ago their daughter had passed and was shocked to discover that this angel's death occurred on September 3, 2007. I was even more winded upon discovering how recent her passing had been because in their shoes, I don't imagine I would be able to leave my house at this point and here they were doing everything they could to raise awareness around organ donation after all they had just been through.

My brother and I will be working together with this beautiful family in the future to increase awareness amongst African-Americans regarding registration for organ donation after death as well as living donation such as the kidney transplant my brother and I underwent. We plan to focus on the Black churches in the St. Louis and metro-east Illinois areas.

The final story I will share comes with a prayer request. Another African-American father shared the plight of his 15 year old daughter Brittany. I had the absolute privilege of meeting this beautiful, young sister who was afflicted with leukemia as an eighteen month old child. With her family's support and great medical care, Brittany survived her cancer and is now in remission from her condition. However, the stress of the disease has weakened her heart and though currently cancer free, she now awaits a heart for transplantation. In less than a week, she is scheduled to be connected to an L-VAD as her heart and lungs are weak. This will require Brittany to be hospitalized. With tears in his eyes as he talked about "his Princess", Brittany's father vowed to take care of his daughter even if it meant transporting her entire bedroom to the hospital so she could feel more at home. The prayer request is specifically for Brittany to be blessed with a heart in time to save her life and enable her to enjoy her teen years to the fullest.

In order for this prayer to be answered, some one will have to die.

As horrible as that last statement sounds, the fact of the matter is that every minute of every day, someone somewhere will die. At some point in time, each and every one of us will ultimately die. Since this is an irrefutable fact, the part of me that always searches for the silver lining in every cloud can see an obvious way that each of us can create beauty from our own registering to become an organ and/or tissue donor. In my opinion, to die and not leave the precious gift of life to someone like Brittany who so deserves her chance is to squander perhaps the greatest opportunity any one of us has to be the kind of person most of us aspire to who is willing to help another.

There are so many myths and URBAN LEGENDS in the African-American community that are used to justify why more of us don't donate our organs following death. Myths like [GOD not welcoming us back without all the parts HE sent us here with] or [the hospital allowing individuals who could have been saved to die so they can harvest the organs for transplant if indeed it is discovered that the person has registered to donate his/her organs]. These reasons for why many of us hesitate to give the greatest gift anyone could possibly give don't hold water. If it would displease GOD for us to return to HIS KINGDOM without everything HE sent us here with, then most of us (men included) had better start gathering all of the hair we have cut or shaved off over the course of our lifetimes and those of you who have required appendectomies or tonsillectomies, I hope you hung onto the organ so you can get into the KINGDOM when the time comes. Let me assure you that the process of harvesting organs and tissues for transplant is one that is tightly regulated by state and federal law and as such in the litigious society in which we live, there is no risk of a health care provider allowing someone whose life could be saved to expire in order to procure their organs or tissue.

If the goal of faith in GOD is to become more like HIM, what better way than to be one who plays a role in giving life. I think most of us would agree that the power to give the gift of life is GOD's greatest power. Organ donation in a small way, allows each of us to be more like GOD. Many of us ask ourselves on a daily basis "What would Jesus do?", you know what I'm talking about...WWJD? Without attempting to speak for Jesus, I would venture that if HE could save a life by organ donation, that is EXACTLY what Jesus would do.

The only hope that Brittany and many others like her have of survival is to receive an organ transplant. However, the fact that she is African-American decreases her chances of a suitable match significantly because the pool of African-American registered donors is very small. Additionally, the fact that diseases such as hypertension and diabetes are so rampant in the Black community means that the pool of available donor candidates is diminished even more. This makes Brittany's situation critical. Though compatible matches can be found for Black recipients amongst donors of different races, the odds of finding a match are increased amongst those of the same race. Registering to become an organ donor in the event of death is very simple. In most states, an individual can complete the donor information on the back of their driver's license. In Missouri, registration can be completed at this website. It is also important to make your family aware of your wish to be an organ/tissue donor in the event of your death. Living organ/tissue donation is as simple as contacting your local transplant center and letting them know you are willing to be typed and tested as a potential donor for either someone you know or a stranger who will never forget you.

One of the things that Everson Walls said as he shared the story of his experience as a donor was that one of the reasons he felt compelled to donate his kidney was because he and his family have been blessed with health because unlike many Black families in our communities, diabetes and kidney disease does not run in his family. He felt that he had no choice but to share his blessing of health with his friend. I felt the same way when I made my decision to donate my kidney to my brother. Blessings are meant to be shared and to be appreciated.

Wouldn't you love to give the gift of good health or the ultimate gift, the gift of life by considering living organ/tissue donation or registering to be an organ donor in the event of your death?

There is NO GREATER GIFT one can give!

Oh, by the way....

Tomorrow, January 6th is my brother Dee's 48th birthday! Though I have no way of knowing if he would be here to celebrate it or not had we not undergone organ transplantation, I DO KNOW that the fact that we did certainly gave him an increased chance that he would be here tomorrow to read these words




DJ Diva said...

I'm proud to say that I am a registered organ donor. I watched your incredible story of your gift of life to your brother and I stood in awe as I do now. It was you that inspired me to check off that little box on my driver's lic app. Thank you for that Sharon. I know this post will inspire others to do the same.

Happy Birthday Dee!