Merlene Davis: Organ donation worth talking about, signing up for

When doctors approached Denisha M. Henry in July and said her 17-year-old daughter, T'neil, could die from the arteriovascular malformation that was causing bleeding in her brain, Henry immediately said she wanted her daughter to be an organ and tissue donor.

"It just flowed from my mouth," she said. "I can't say it was difficult."

Henry has worked in pharmaceutical research for more than 15 years and knew how hard it was to get African-Americans and other minorities to donate organs. If God could give us his son to save the world, Henry believed, then she could give her daughter's organs to save a few lives.

Charlotte Wong, public education coordinator for the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates in Lexington, said about 688 people are on a waiting list in Kentucky for organs from deceased donors.

Last year there were 127 donors who had been declared brain dead in this state. About 12 percent were African-American and 1 percent Hispanic. That means 113 of those donors were Caucasian, she said.

"The whole picture is that every day someone dies and there are all these organs that all of us have," Wong said. "And if you just stop and think about the number of obituaries in the Lexington Herald-Leader, only 127 were donors last year. How many more could have been recovered to save other peoples' lives?

"There is an overwhelming need that we are not meeting, and I think it's because people don't understand," Wong said.

But that is not because Wong hasn't tried.

KODA has produced a short film featuring family members from Lexington and the surrounding area who are recipients or who have had family members who donated organs.

The Gift of a Lifetime is only 11 minutes long, and Wong said she is more than willing to talk to anyone, anywhere about organ donations.

"Bible studies, women's clubs, anyone," she said. "I wish every Red Hat (Society) club in the city would call. Those are the family leaders who need to share this information with their families."

Henry has long known of the need. She signed the back of her driver's license years ago and is on the bone marrow registry, she said.

"You can donate tissue, organs, skin and eyes," she said. "We donated everything we could donate. I'm told up to 50 people can be helped by one donor."

Organ transplantation has been around longer than we think. The first human kidney transplant was in 1954, followed by the first heart transplant in 1967, bone marrow in 1973 and hand transplant in 1998. All were major advances in the quality of human life.

Still, despite minorities representing more than 50 percent of the people waiting for transplants nationally, minorities still are not willing to donate. The thought remains that their lives will be taken prematurely to save someone deemed more worthy.

Henry is dismayed by that thinking.

"They are not going to let you die so they can save the governor's son or a famous actor," she said.

In fact, Henry later learned T'neil's heart gave life to a 29-year-old woman. who wrote Henry saying the donation gave her a chance to get married and have children.

T'neil's lungs went to a 16-year-old who suffered with cystic fibrosis. T'neil's kidneys, liver and pancreas saved the lives of a military veteran and a police officer.

Henry knows she did the right thing, and she's comfortable with that decision.

"She is not going to ever use them again," Henry said. "She wasn't mine to keep, but I feel like she was mine to give and share."

To schedule an information session about organ and tissue donation, call Wong at (859) 967-2909 or 1-800-525-3456.