It only took a few times on dialysis for John Grissom of Pensacola to know he wanted to have a kidney transplant.
“I had to be hooked up three times a week to a machine for 3-4 hours at a time. When I finished, I was tired and drained,” said Grissom. In October 2003, he got the call from University of South Alabama Gulf Coast Regional Transplant Center that a matching kidney had been donated. He was transplanted at USA Medical Center in Mobile and has since become one of its strongest proponents for organ donation.
“It is the greatest gift anyone has given me,” said Grissom. “It’s a second chance at life. I hope one day the family that donated my kidney will contact me. I can’t wait to meet them so I can tell them what their gift has meant to me.”
Grissom’s message, delivered at this year’s Organ Donor Recognition Ceremony, April 28, at the Mobile Marriott, was comfort to the Gulf Coast area families that attended the event. Many holding photos of family members they had lost during the past year, were thanked for donating their loved ones’ organs so others could live or have a better quality of life.
For some, the idea that their loved ones live on through others helps them make sense of their tragic loss. Barbara Leonard of Grove Hill wears a photo button of her grandson, Tommy Overton, who was killed just before his 18th birthday in 2000. She also wears a jacket specially embroidered with a message promoting organ donation. It was a decision she and her grandson had discussed even before he got his driver’s permit and designated he wanted to be an organ donor.
“He was so proud (of being an organ donor) and showed all his friends,” said Leonard. “He loved life and still lives in his recipients.”
Tommy’s life is celebrated with a square on the national donor family quilt. Each “patch of love” represents a life taken and a life saved through organ donation. A traveling section of the quilt was on display at the event. The ceremony, planned during Donate Life month, was highlighted by a candle lighting ceremony to honor and remember deceased donors and their families who made the decision to donate organs. Each recipient lit a candle in memory of his or her donor. Donor families received a plaque and a white rose from the Alabama Organ Center.
Living donors and their recipients exchanged matching pins to recognize their special connection to each other.
The annual event will hopefully increase awareness of the need for organ donation. More than two thousand people are on a waiting list for kidneys in Alabama. Less than 300 are transplanted each year. Dr. Velma Scantlebury, director of transplantation services at the University of South Alabama, says people who want to become organ donors need to discuss their wishes with their family. “It is not enough to sign an organ donor card. Your family must know your wishes as they will be the ones to make the decision,” said Scantlebury. “Patients needing a kidney transplantation can wait years before a matching kidney becomes available.”
A strong proponent of organ donation, from both living and deceased donors, USA’s transplant surgeon believes educating the public about the need is important. Scantlebury has performed over 700 kidney transplants in her career. She holds the distinction of being the first African-American female kidney transplant surgeon in the nation.
The USA Gulf Coast Regional Transplant Center, located at USA Medical Center, provides transplant evaluations, kidney transplants and follow-up care for patients in south Alabama, coastal Mississippi and northwest Florida. For more information on kidney transplants or organ donation, call the center at (251) 471-7391 or toll free (877) 421-5704.