CHICAGO (CBS) — August is many things. The last hurrah of summer. The first days of school. It’s also National Minority Donor Awareness Month.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory shares the impact of organ donation.

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Ezra Hill, Jr.,, known as EJ, was 10 years old when he died. His mom, Andrea Harden, recalls talking to him at the hospital.

“I told him to fly high,” she said, choking up.

Ezra Hill, Jr., (Photo supplied to CBS)

Her angel was taken by gun violence in 2019.

In that final conversation, Harden told EJ about the choice to donate his organs.

“I believe that’s what he would’ve wanted; to save someone else’s life, and help other people, because he was very friendly,” Harden said.

As one young life was lost, another one was in danger about 650 miles away in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Fifteen-year-old Andy’s heart failed him at birth. So did two transplants. Then EJ’s heart became available. It’s beat inside Andy for 2 ½ years and counting.

“If it were not for him [EJ], for their donation, for their love, I would not have my son,” Andy’s mom Georgina Pena tells CBS 2.

Andy (Photo supplied to CBS)

The families recently learned each other’s identities.

“I think we could’ve been friends,” said Andy, shyly.

CBS 2 brings you the story of EJ and Andy at the same time you’ll see Pamela Hairston‘s organ donation on display. A banner with her face and several attributes hangs in the Austin neighborhood this month and next month. The goal is to inspire minorities to register as organ donors.

“Discuss that decision with your family,” pleas Dr. Harry Wilkins. He is CEO of Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, the federally designated organ donation coordinator for most of Illinois and Northwest Indiana.

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Dr. Wilkins is making his appeal particularly to communities of color right now because 60% of people on the organ transplant waiting list (which is 100,000 patients long) are from multicultural backgrounds.

He explains a transplant can last longer if the donor comes from a close background.

“People of similar descent may have closer genetic matching. It’s not a guarantee but it certainly does help,” said Dr. Wilkins.

CBS 2 is aware of rumors surrounding organ donations. Dr. Wilkins helped us dispel some of them.

“We always hear people talking about the Tuskegee experiment and that ‘they’re experimenting on us,’” said Wilkins. “There are some people who still believe organ transplants and organ transplantation is experimental, and it is absolutely not. So that’s one misconception.”

Another: that doctors won’t work as hard to save someone who is listed as an organ donor.

“I was a trauma surgeon for 36 years before I took this job as CEO, and I can tell you that not once in the 36 years when somebody came into the emergency room did I even consider their donation status as I’m trying to save their life,” said Wilkins.

A third rumor: that you can’t have a funeral service if you are an organ donor.

“That is absolutely not true whatsoever,” said Wilkins.

To learn more about how donation works and how to register, visit the Gift of Hope website.

According to Gift of Hope, 22 people a day die waiting for an organ.

Not Andy, thanks to EJ.

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Andy (Photo supplied to CBS)

 

Lauren Victory