Organ Donations: The Power of Second Chances

By Davis, Kimberly | Ebony, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Organ Donations: The Power of Second Chances


Davis, Kimberly, Ebony


YOU know that old saying? The one about second chances? It's not always true. Sometimes, in life, there are second chances. It's often at those times when you expect the worst that your destiny goes in reverse and you get to add more years to your legacy.

For organ recipients, second chances are a reality--an opportunity for a new or improved life. In the African-American community, organ donation has historically been a difficult subject. Of the more than 87,000 people on the nation's growing transplant waiting list, more than 25 percent of them are Black according to research. Experts say that African-Americans as a group have a greater-than-average need for organ and tissue transplantation because of the relatively high incidence in this population of certain medical conditions--high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and kidney disorders--that can cause permanent organ damage.

Social mores or constructs, religious issues and distrust of the medical establishment has meant that fewer Blacks consent to organ donation. Because it's easier to match blood and tissue type to a person of the same ethnicity, that means that many Blacks have languished on transplant lists for years.

"I think it's a complex issue," says Dr. Robert Higgins, professor and chairman of the department of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "It's not the right thing for everybody, but everybody has to be informed about the potential in organ and tissue donation--you could affect or save five, 10 or even 15 lives. It's still an extraordinary thing."

EUNICE GIBSON'S STORY

For Eunice Gibson, 53, of Los Angeles, that "extraordinary thing" has meant a reinvention. Diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and secondary pulmonary hypertension in 1996, her lungs were so damaged, one doctor told her she was going to die. "My reaction was, 'I'm going to die?!'" recalls Gibson, a registered nurse.

She was without hope until one doctor told her that she had the option of a double-lung transplant. Gibson was placed on the transplant list in 1999, and the disease progressed to the point where she could hardly do anything on her own. As someone who was always the "strong one" in the family, it was a hard pill to swallow.

After two failed attempts, Gibson got the call she was waiting for on February 7, 2002. "This isn't going to happen," Gibson recalls thinking, because of the earlier false alarms. "The next thing I knew they were taking my bed to the operating room."

There was no time to be frightened, no time to think about it, really--only time to say a quick goodbye to her family, including her partner Gina Drew.

By all accounts, the surgery was a success, but Gibson's recovery did have complications. She was in the hospital for four months, but she has a set of healthy lungs, thanks to a female donor--also an RN--about her age who lived in South Carolina. "At the time [during recovery], I didn't want to ask about the donor," says Gibson, who volunteers as an advocate for organ donation through the One Legacy Foundation. "But that became something that was really missing for me."

In April, she received a letter from the donor's sisters, and their continued correspondence has driven the point home even more that this second chance is truly a precious gift.

"I asked God to keep me alive because my work wasn't done," says Gibson, who works part time as an RN consultant. "As I felt better, I came to realize that everything that had happened to me meant that I have a path to follow."

JOANN C. DuBOSE'S STORY

Sometimes God has a way of bringing life full circle, says Joann C. DuBose, a homemaker and seamstress in Mobile, Ala.

DuBose, 53, had been diagnosed with high blood pressure when she was 20 years old. About 10 years ago, she went in for a routine checkup, and the doctors told her to come to the hospital immediately. …

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