LifeLink® saving lives

By Holly Kestenis Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – You may know a loved one who is in need of a liver, perhaps a kidney. Maybe it’s you. Well you’re not alone. Each year more and more people are added to the list of those waiting for a new lease on life, currently that number rests at more than 120,000 and that’s just here in the United States.

So LifeLink® Foundation, Inc. along with The Weekly Challenger, hosted a luncheon for spiritual leaders at Sylvia’s Queen of Soul Food Restaurant, located in the historic Manhattan Casino, to bring awareness to the need of the community to step up and get involved.

“This program is one that doesn’t seem to get a lot of discussion and fanfare because it’s such a delicate issue,” said Weekly Challenger Advertising Manager Bishop Mike Lewis, who had LifeLink® come out to his church to make a presentation. “As pastors we have a responsibility to care for the sheep, to educate them on these various services.”

The LifeLink® Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated in recovering organs and tissue that can be used for transplants. Since someone usually needs to pass away in order to donate their organs, great care and sensitivity are taken by LifeLink® to ensure they are facilitating in the process of retrieval when the time comes.

Dori Blanc is the Hospital Development Liaison with the LifeLink® Foundation. She serves 15 counties in west Florida and is always looking for ways to promote organ donation.

“In the African-American community we have the greatest need, but we are the least willing to donate,” she said. “That has to change.”

One way that the organization is getting the message out is to reach out to local pastors. The room was filled with church officials hearing firsthand testimonials from people on both ends of the donation process.

Kidney transplant recipient Janice Starling-Williams replayed the 14 years she spent on the waiting list. The average length of time someone waits differs due to varying factors, but one can expect to find a match in a few years.

“I went through denial, disbelief, shock,” said Starling-Williams when she first found out. She was mad and would cry thinking she was all alone. “But then I remembered God.”

Through her faith, she found the courage and determination to persevere while she waited for that all-important organ that would eventually change her life. But she knows others need some help along the way. She formed a support group that even helps kidney patients pay their light bill if they run into problems.

“I know the hardships of dialysis,” she said, hoping those listening would hear her and become a registered donor.

Reverend Julius Wynn of Highland Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa made the trip across the bridge to speak of the importance of donors. With a heavy heart having just weeks ago lost a grandchild, he still wanted to come and tell of his experience as an organ recipient.

“Every opportunity I get to share the important work that LifeLink® does I take advantage,” he said. On dialysis for some two and a half years, it was a parishioner who stepped up to give a kidney as she witnessed week in and week out his struggle to get through his sermons.

“I would have to go outside and throw up,” he said. Wynn thought his brother would be a match, but as it turned out, God was on his side. “What an awesome commitment.”

Wynn’s favorite bumper sticker touts the need for organs to be here on Earth where they can save lives. But although the greatest need for organs goes to African Americans who disproportionately suffer from hypertension and diabetes which ultimately lead to renal failure, they are the most unrepresented race when it comes to donations.

“A lot of black people will say, ‘I was born with these organs and I’m going to die with these organs,’” stated Wynn.

Lee Ann Crane was on hand to give her experience with organ donation.

“I believe that the love in a mother’s heart cannot be measured,” she said pointing out something everyone has in common, love for family.

Finding herself a single mom of two sons, Crane’s relationship with her sons intensified as their circumstances changed, strengthening the bonds of their love. “It was just the three of us, our little family.”

So when the phone call came notifying her that her older son Henry, just barely 21, was hit by a car while riding his bike in Gainesville where he was a senior at the University of Florida (UF), her whole life changed again.

Henry would no longer sing like he did in the youth choir, nor would he continue his work in the Campus Crusade for Christ that he was involved in at UF. He would no longer read the bible out loud to comfort his mother or brother Austin.

After a multitude of tests and procedures it was determined Henry’s body would no longer function. He would not recover from his injuries.

Crane and both her boys had discussed just a few years earlier what they would want if ever one of them were hurt beyond repair. His living will helped to save at least three lives and gave peace to Crane knowing that her son’s death brought someone else life. LifeLink® handled the organ donation with what Crane cites as respect and compassion.

“My darling son was such a blessing to those who knew him,” she said trying to hold back tears, at times not being able to stop the emotion from escaping. “His gifts of life are now blessing many more who never knew him.”

Henry’s living will was signed and witnessed at their church and as Crane looked out at a room full of pastors, her words could not have been clearer. Receiving an organ donation is a precious gift, the gift of life. Not only for the recipient but for all those who love and know them. The ripple effect of a life saved is powerful.

Spiritual leaders have the unique and important opportunity to encourage others to consider the choice to become an organ donor, and Crane hopes they will take that seriously.

“Henrys life gave purpose and meaning to mine,” she said. “His gifts of life gave a second chance to others.”

Posters were offered to pastors and others in attendance to hang in their churches or organizations reminding parishioners of the gift of life.

For more information on LifeLink®, go to www.lifelinkfound.org.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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