Thanks to the generosity of a young North Carolina man, Evelyn Jones of Kinston has been able to spend the last eight years watching her grandchildren grow.
Jones’ two daughters did not have any children during the late spring of 2002 when she and her husband Aubrey learned that she needed a replacement liver immediately before hers shut down — she had been diagnosed two years before with primary biliary cirrhosis, a chronic disease in which the immune system attacks the liver. The cause of the disease is still unknown.
“Now, I’ve lived to see those three grandsons, and I wouldn’t have gotten to see them if I was still waiting on a liver,” she said.
Jones, now 66, received the news on Memorial Day that year following one of her regular blood tests at Duke Hospital.
“After doing my blood work they said to me, ‘Your liver is shutting down,’ ” she said.
One week later, Jones was on the operating table after an 18-year-old man who had signed up to be an organ donor was killed in an auto accident.
His liver was placed in Jones’ body during a 10-hour surgery at Duke. She has since recovered and regularly speaks and churches and schools with her husband about the need to be an organ donor.
“It’s very easy to shrug it off,” Aubrey Jones, 69, said of becoming an organ donor. “But when it hits one of your loved ones, it becomes very real.”
April is National Donate Life Month, and advocates of organ donation in North Carolina will spend this month encouraging Tar Heel citizens to become donors.
There are more than 3,200 North Carolinians waiting for a transplant, and more than 100,000 nationwide are waiting for one, according to representatives of Carolina Donor Services, a Greenville-based “federally designated organ procurement organization” that coordinates transplants with donors, patients and transplant centers.
“Being an organ donor, it gives you the opportunity to save or enhance the life of someone who needs a transplant,” said Dwain Cooper, community relations coordinator for Carolina Donor Services.
Cooper and the Joneses noted that while Evelyn Jones is white, the donor was black. Race, age and gender are not considered primary factors as to whether or not organs are compatible; she and the 18-year-old donor did have the same blood type, B-negative, though, which made them a match.
“Sometimes race is overplayed … certainly not in God’s view, but if humanity could catch up,” Aubrey Jones said.
Connie Deaver, an administrative nursing supervisor who is in charge of Lenoir Memorial Hospital’s organ donor program, said the primary factors in compatibility are blood type and the organ’s size in proportion to the recipient’s body — it is not recommended to transfer an organ from a small person to a large person.
The organ must also be healthy and in good shape; diseased or traumatized organs are not ideal.
Deaver said people can become organ donors through the Department of Motor Vehicles and either have a donor logo placed on their driver’s license when they renew, or obtain a donor card.
Prospective local donors can also register through LMH or Carolina Donor Services, which is the main facilitator for transplants from the hospital.
She encouraged donors to inform their family of their decision, even though the logo serves as “first-person consent.”
“The families are so distraught when death occurs, many times they don’t want them to be donors,” Deaver said. “The time of death is not the time to make those decisions if you’re not sure your loved one wanted that.”