Have a Heart: East Texas group encourages organ donation to save lives
Jo Lee Ferguson
Dec. 27, 2017 at 7:10 a.m.
Updated Dec. 27, 2017 at 7:10 a.m.
John Godwin didn’t know how bad he had been feeling until he lived life with a new heart.
Godwin, a Marshall native and city manager in Paris, Texas, received a life-saving heart transplant a little more than four years ago. He describes himself since that time as a “man on a mission,” a man who encourages everyone who will listen to register as an organ donor, at www.donatelifetexas.org.
Each day 22 people die waiting for an organ donor, he says.
“It’s a zero-sum game. It’s a shame, some of the people are going to die that didn’t have to,” says Godwin, who served as an intern and management analyst for the city of Longview in the late 1980s. “It’s a shame. I never question anybody for not signing up, but gosh, it’s a great thing to do.... I hope (registering at www.donatelifetexas.org) is a complete waste of your time, but please, do it, because you just never know.”
National Donor Day, on Feb. 14, recognizes people who have given the donation of organs, eyes, tissue, blood, platelets and marrow, as well as the people who have received a donation, who are waiting for one or who didn’t receive one in time. The day is designed to encourage people to participate in donor registration drives of all kinds.
That’s been a passion of Anita Quinn’s for 27 years, ever since friends helped organize efforts to find a bone marrow donor for her son, Bryan, and Al Edwards, both of whom had a life-threatening form of leukemia. Stem cell donations, from bone marrow or from the blood stream, go primarily to people with leukemia and to people with other blood cancers.
The nonprofit organization Because I Care grew out of those initial efforts, and the group, with Quinn as coordinator, continues to organize donor drives. These days, potential donors are registered with a simple swab that is mailed into the national donor marrow registry, “Be the Match.” Because I Care raises funds locally to pay for the costs associated with registering donors.
The local organization has added more than 27,000 people to the registry, with “dozens and dozens” of people becoming donors from that group, Quinn says.
“The bottom line is, it’s a wonderful way for donors, people who have a heart for others, to be able to offer to help a patient and you’re not giving up anything permanently,” she says.
Quinn’s son did go on to receive a transplant, but he died later of other complications. In the years since, Quinn says she has not felt anger or jealousy for the people who do survive and who do well after transplants.
“That’s not my place to question, but at the same time, I know what it meant to us when our son’s donor stepped up to do something that either one of us (Quinn or her husband) would have done gladly, but we couldn’t,” Quinn says.
Because I Care started because of her family’s need, she says, but people are diagnosed with blood cancers every few minutes.
“It can hit anybody,” Quinn says.
Quinn and Godwin both face misconceptions during their work to recruit donors. Quinn says she’s talked to people who think marrow donation hurts. These days, though, only about 20 percent of these types of transplant procedures involved actual marrow donations, she said. In those cases, the donor is put to sleep while the doctor extracts marrow from the pelvic bone with a needle. There’s no cutting through tissue, she says, adding that people she’s talked to say they feel a little sore afterward. Most of these donations now, though, are taken through blood, with no bone marrow extraction necessary.
“It is not painful,” Quinn says.
Godwin says he and his wife get upset at the picture television paints of organ donation – of medical personnel letting someone die so they can whisk that person’s heart down the hall to someone
else. He’s heard from people who worry they won’t receive good care at the hospital if they’re an organ donor.
“If you’re an organ donor, they do everything in the world to help you,” he says.
Godwin’s health problems started in 2012, when he became unable to play with his grandchildren or lean over to tie his shoes without getting winded. No one could figure out what was wrong with him, and then, he had a massive heart attack in June 2013. He says doctors later determined sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, had killed his heart. He lived a healthy and active life to that point, which doctors said saved his life.
Doctors told his wife to start planning his funeral, and then, he received his life-saving transplant. His new heart started beating on the morning of July 2, 2013, he recalls. He started walking the next day and returned to work six weeks later. Thirteen weeks later, he ran a 5K.
“It was amazing how bad I felt, and then how good I felt,” Godwin says.
All he knows about the heart he received is that it came from someone who died in Smith County. He’s always wanted to meet his donor’s family and express his gratitude, although he has fears about meeting them one day, too.
“I don’t want to disappoint them or bring up old wounds,” he says.
He speaks all over the state, telling people his transplant story and motivating people to be kind, he explains, recalling waking up after his transplant and realizing what a big deal his new chance at life was.
“I’ve got to be thankful to the world if I can for doing this,” he says.