Bright Spot focuses on organ donor awareness

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — If you've ever wanted to save a life, now is your chance.

While we  just wrapped up National Donate Life Month - a time dedicated to raising awareness about the organ donor program -the need remains greater than ever.

There are hundreds of thousands of people across the nation needing organs. It's a need that continues day after day and thousands of them right here in the Memphis area.

This week's Bright Spot focuses on lives being touched and saved through the Mid-South Transplant Foundation.

"A lot of times we just take little things for granted, you know. Now I try not to take little things for granted anymore."

Anissa Swanigan has a lot to be thankful for. She has two sons she's blessed to share her life with and she's literally a "living testimony" to the success of the organ donor program.

"While going through my pregnancy I found out that I had this heart disease. Never knew I had it," said Swanigan.

In 2010, Anissa was diagnosed with the same heart disease that claimed her mother's life three years earlier.
She was sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for testing and wasn't prepared for what cardiologists there told her.

"They told me that not only did I need a heart transplant, but I needed a heart, lung and liver. And I was just really devastated at the time, not really knowing what to do."

Swanigan's case was prioritized and she waited. When a donor became available she successfully underwent a very rare "reverse transplant" procedure.

"It was from one donor. What they did...usually they would put the heart in first and then other organs. They had done that several times. But with me they put the liver in first and then the heart," she said.

Swanigan's story isn't unlike the thousands of people who are waiting day-in-and day-out for a "life giving" organ transplant.

"Currently we have over 118, 000 people on the national waiting list. With that national waiting list, sadly, 22 of those die each and every day while waiting, but then it gets even worse. Every ten minutes we're adding another name to that list," said Zola Burgess, Mid-South Transplant Foundation.

At the Mid-South Transplant Foundation education is one of the biggest tools in raising awareness. This federally designated organ and tissue procurement organization serves west Tennessee, east Arkansas and north Mississippi.

"We have about 3,000 to 4,0000 people on that waiting list in our area," said Burgess.

  • 82 people in the tri-state area need a heart transplant.
  • 982 are waiting for a kidney.
  • 82 for a liver.
  • 14 are waiting for a kidney or pancreas.
  • Six are waiting for pediatric organs.
  • Burgess said their foundation constantly deals with myths surrounding organ transplants.

"And people will think, 'well, I'm not going to donate my organs because they may know I'm an organ donor and they may try to kill me.' That is the greatest myth ever," Burgess said.

Becoming a donor is simple and for Swanigan, who volunteers at the Mid-South Transplant Foundation, it's the most important thing a person can do.

"I was saved from a donor and now I have the opportunity to be here and raise my two boys. So that was a blessing to me."

For information on how you can register as an organ or tissue donor, go to www.midsouthtransplant.org.

If you have an idea for Bright Spot send an email, a tweet or a Facebook message to Markova Reed.