By Wiley Henry

MEMPHIS, TN — Of the more than 106,000 people on the national waiting list for an organ, eye or tissue donation to become available, 4,000 of them are Mid-Southerners (Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi), according to the Mid-South Transplant Foundation. 

But there aren’t enough registered donors to save each one of them or to give them the ultimate gift of life. Startling statistics bear this out – and they’re rather grim, almost unimaginable.

Eighty-three percent of patients overall need a kidney. Ten will die each day while waiting on a life-saving organ; and a new name is added to the national waiting list every 10 minutes.

Promoting awareness and educating the public about the importance of organ and tissue donations can help allay one’s fear and dispel any myths and misconceptions about organ procurement and transplantation. 

At least that’s what keeps Randa Lipman at the grindstone as manager of community outreach for the federally designated organ procurement organization, which helps to facilitate the organ donation process between donor families and recipients.

“We try to educate the public about the benefits of donating so that more lives can be saved,” Lipman said. “We know in times of tragedy [that] one person can save up to eight lives with solid organs and another 75 with tissue donations.”

Amber Pettis received a kidney in August of 2015. She was 28 and reasonably healthy, she thought. A year after receiving a diagnosis of end-stage renal failure, the donated kidney was her new lease on life. 

To this day, she still doesn’t know why her kidneys failed. The doctors couldn’t figure it out, either, she said. She didn’t have pre-existing conditions, high blood pressure, or diabetes – just the onslaught of renal failure. 

“I went to the doctor with what I thought was just a stomach virus,” Pettis, working in transportation as a supply chain leader, remembers. “From that appointment, I learned that I was in end-stage renal failure.”

In fact, Pettis said the day she was diagnosed, she had just made it back to Memphis after completing an out-of-town trip for her job. “I was in corporate America making a life,” she said. 

As one would expect, Pettis was shocked, devastated; her life was upside down. After being connected to a dialysis machine for a year, a matching kidney was located. It saved her life. 

“I was just a young adult. I had finished college, finished graduate school,” Pettis said. “My mother was devastated…uncles, cousins. Going through that situation gave me a new appreciation for life.”

Telisa Franklin recently joined the team at MSTF to help save lives and to give others, like Pettis, hope and, in her words, “a new appreciation for life.” But she is concerned with the high rate of organ failure in the Black community. 

Data from the National Kidney Foundation are alarming: While African Americans comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 35 percent of people with kidney failure.

“I am a champion for African Americans. I want everyone to understand how important it is to give life and to give hope,” said Franklin, MSTF’s multicultural relations coordinator.

“Many African Americans have high blood pressure and what we call sugar diabetes, which, literally, contribute to having kidney issues,” she said, calling attention to the proliferation of dialysis clinics “in our communities.”

Dialysis and kidney transplants are two options available for patients grappling with end-stage kidney disease. The former can be a grueling experience for patients dialyzing at least three times a week for three hours or more.

As a minister, Franklin said it is imperative and a blessing to give life – and equates the rib that God had taken from Adam and giving it to Eve as the world’s first transplant, biblically speaking. 

She continued: “You’d never know, a heart or a kidney could extend the life of someone who may discover a cure for cancer or become the next president of the United States.” 

It’s about giving back, she said. “Why not donate your liver, kidney or pancreas instead of taking those good organs with you to the other side when someone can use them.”

What Pettis went through after the shock of end-stage renal failure forced her to depend solely on family and the community. At that juncture in her life, she didn’t have a choice in the matter. 

“My situation caught my family off guard,” she said. “Organ failure, in general, regardless of what it is…whether it’s the heart or kidney…it impacts not only you but those around you.”

After her yearlong ordeal on dialysis, Pettis is a firm believer that organ and tissue donations save lives. 

“You’re have a whole new meaning [of life] when you go through what I’ve gone through,” she said.