Organ donation gives the gift of life

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 4/14/19

After living for almost 30 years with liver disease caused by an enzyme deficiency that presented minimal symptoms, the long, slow decline in Chattanooga pediatrician Dr. Willie Mae Hubbard's health …

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Organ donation gives the gift of life

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After living for almost 30 years with liver disease caused by an enzyme deficiency that presented minimal symptoms, the long, slow decline in Chattanooga pediatrician Dr. Willie Mae Hubbard's health began to tell when the disease  became life threatening.

“It happened just the way my doctor in 1986 said it would,” said Hubbard, who over the decades had built a busy medical practice, married and raised several children.

By 2012, her liver began failing, resulting in the need for a life-saving liver transplant. She was placed on the transplant list the next year, and received a new liver in 2015.

“I was on the transplant list for two years,” Hubbard said. “The sickest patients get transplants first, and I got mine when I was truly in liver failure.”

Within days, Hubbard’s health greatly improved and she is thriving today, still practicing medicine and enjoying an active life.

“My gift is profound,” Hubbard said. “No day is ever horrible.”

Hubbard was a recent speaker during an organ donation education meeting held lat South Cleveland Church of God, hosted by Tennessee Donor Services PR coordinator Dawn Benjamin.

“There are several ways to donate,” Benjamin said adding organ donors can sign up at donatelife.org or the Tennessee Department of Safety's website.

According to Benjamin, more than 113,000 people in the United States are currently waiting for a live-saving transplant. In addition, African-Americans make up 30 percent of the list, as they are three times as likely to suffer from end-state renal disease caused by diabetes and high blood pressure.

Benjamin said signing up for organ donation spares family members from having to make the decision when they're distraught and having to come to grips with the death of a loved one.

“None of us wants to be put in that position,” Benjamin said, adding t two-thirds of organ donation decisions result from family consent.

That decision fell to Norma Hill and her husband, Eric, when their son, Victor, died in 2017. He was 32.

Victor’s organs saved the lives of a 21-year-old woman who received his heart; a wife and mother, who received his liver; a husband and father of six children, who received a kidney; and a 47-year-old husband and father, who also received a kidney.

During the meeting, Hill described how she and her husband struggled to understand the donation process while trying to deal with the anguish and shock of losing their son.

She encouraged everyone to educate themselves regarding organ donation, as well as to register to make organ donation decisions easier for their families.

The decision (if made either by the donor or the family) is a godsend to others who are appreciative of the gift of life that organ donation can offer.

Hubbard said she was able to contact her own donor’s family, who granted her permission to do so via donor services. Hill said the family consented to her discussing the gift of Hubbard's donor, Charlotte Murphree.

Typically, the families of those who donate organs are anonymous, but organ donation organizations will ask the families if they are open to being contacted by organ recipients.

Murphree’s family was.

“I was determined to find her family,” Hubbard said. “We still remain in contact."

Benjamin said families sometimes want to meet recipients whose lives have been saved through transplants.

“It helps give them comfort,” Benjamin said, adding she sometimes arranges in-person meetings.

However, there are those to choose to remain anonymous. 

Hubbard said organ donation is the gift of life, and  she encourages her fellow African-Americans to become familiar with the importance of organ donation and transplants.

She added, however,  that some remain distrustful of the medical community, due to the abuses that occurred during unethical studies such as the Tuskegee Experiment.

"The black community has trust issues," Hubbard said. "It's so important that we educate and increase awareness."

Organ donation saves lives, Hubbard said.

“Please consider giving the gift of life," Hubbard said.

To register as an organ donor or for more information, visit https://donatelifetn.org/.

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