CHICAGO – When it comes to organ donation, 33 percent of those on waiting lists are African American, but account for only 14 percent of donors, according to Jack Lynch, community affairs director for Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network.
That is why the Chicago area organ donor procurement agency is committed to public awareness and education about organ and live tissue donations.
And recently honored a late Chicago teen’s parents, who made that ultimate sacrifice by donating their son’s organs. Tarcia Patton and Jermaine Cullum Sr., the parents of 16-year-old Jermaine Cullum Jr., received the “legacy” award during a news conference and reception Wednesday, June 25, at Gift of Hope’s Bronzeville office, 2600 S. Michigan.
“This Bronzeville office gives us an opportunity to be a part of the community,” Gift of Hope President/CEO Kevin Cmunt said. “Organ and tissue donation brings people together. In Jermaine’s case, he was a young beautiful man that impacted so many lives. Because of the generosity of Jermaine’s parents, his story lives on.”
Jermaine and his mom previously talked about his choice to sign an organ donor card, something the Christ the King Jesuit College Prep High School sophomore didn’t get around to doing before he collapsed in May, while playing in a basketball tournament at Riverside Brookfield High School, according to Gift of Hope officials.
Patton watched her son languish on life support for a week before she made the decision to donate his organs because “That was something he wanted to do.”
“Jermaine was a very special kid, “ Patton said of her son after she and his father received a plaque from Cmunt during the June 25 event. “He did a lot,” Patton said. “He was church going. He loved everyone. His life is going on.”
Jermaine’s organs help saved several lives, according to officials.
Gift of Hope’s African American Task Force, housed at the Michigan office, hopes to encourage more African Americans like Jermaine and his parents to become organ donors.
“We’re working hard with Gift of Hope to ensure organ and tissue donations are available to those who need them,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Preckwinkle attended the news conference along with Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, whose office helps people become organ donors, and Cook County Commissioner Bobby Steele.
Steele knows first hand the importance of organ donation, as he was one in need of a transplant several years ago.
Steele spent two years on a waiting list for a kidney, and couldn’t find a suitable donor until he began getting family members tested and learned his sister was a match.
He said he has not had any relapses since the transplant surgery in 2010, or have had to go back to the hospital.
“I thank Jack [Lynch] for educating me about looking at family members,” Steele said. “Thanks for being the organization that can educate, where you can give life and hope.”