Thelma Johnson, of Albany, shares the story of her allowing a tissue donation to be taken from her 15-year-old son, following his death five years ago during Thursday’s “Gift of Life” luncheon.
ALBANY, Ga. — Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler and officials from LifeLink of Georgia hosted a luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn on Thursday as a way to help spread the word on the importance of organ and tissue donation.
The “Gift of Life” luncheon featured presentations from LifeLink, testimonials from organ recipients and survivors of those who have donated, and an interactive session with those in attendance to get feedback on how the cause could be furthered on a regional level.
“There is a critical shortage of available transplant therapy,” said Carla Hawkins, educational specialist with LifeLink. “There are a lot of fears and misconceptions out there hindering people from signing up (to donate).
“When people aren’t aware, they are more apprehensive.”
Among the misconceptions Hawkins said she has heard are the potential unwillingness on a hospital’s part of save a donor’s life, or that a donor would be unable to have an open-casket funeral.
“We want people to leave with a positive outlook,” she said at the luncheon. “It’s not about death; it’s about life.”
More than 110,000 people are currently on the national waiting list for organ donation, and that number increases every 11 minutes, Hawkins said.
Debbie McDonald, a kidney and pancreas recipient, was among those who shared their story at the luncheon.
McDonald, an Albany native, received the organs as a result of damage done from diabetes — a diagnosis she received when she was 10 years old.
Thanks to the transplants, she said, she was able to eventually get off of insulin shots.
“I have an improved quality of life; I was blessed to get those transplants,” McDonald said. “It can save lives and improve lives. I would encourage anyone to donate; anybody can sign up to donate.
“(Being given a second chance) makes me know what’s important in life.”
Thelma Johnson, the mother of the late Shaquille Johnson — a freshman lineman at Westover High School who died in January 2008 — shared the experience of having to consent to donate her son’s tissue.
Shaquille had undergone knee surgery a few weeks before collapsing at home and being rushed to the hospital, where he later died.
Since Shaquille’s death turned out to be a cardiac death, only his tissues — rather than his organs — were viable for transplant, his mother said.
“I was one child less, so I felt like a failure,” his mother said Thursday.
Johnson said she was turned off at first by the phone call she received asking about a potential donation — but she did say yes.
“By donating organs, we are becoming more Christlike; we are saving lives,” Johnson said. “It is a way to honor (Shaquille’s) life, a way to remember him.”
Also present at the luncheon were various public safety officials from throughout the area. A donor designation station was also set up at the event for those wishing to sign up to become organ donors.