“LifeLine” exhibit encourages organ donation by Black Milwaukeeans

Concern over the high percentage of people awaiting transplants has led to a new art and information exhibit that encourages organ donation in Milwaukee’s black community.

Organized by Danielle L. Paswaters, “LifeLine: The Ultimate Bond” is the result of a partnership between the American Black Holocaust Museum, Versiti and The Divine 9, a coalition of historically black fraternities and sororities. Transplant recipients and people awaiting Divine 9 organs are putting local human faces on the educational effort.

“African Americans make up 13% of the national population, but 35% of people on the national transplant waiting list,” said Colleen McCarthy, vice president of Versiti Organ and Tissue. “Here in Wisconsin alone, 2,000 people are waiting for organs, of which 400 are African Americans.”

Yet only 25% of Milwaukee’s black community are registered organ donors, while more than 50% of the nation’s population is registered to donate organs.

“This is what we hope to change,” McCarthy said.

Although the exhibit was assembled at the Black Holocaust Museum in America, it remains virtual as the museum is currently closed.

The exhibit dispels myths, including the myth that organ donation disfigures the body before it is buried, and the myth that doctors will allow people to die so they can use these organs.

This later myth was something Richard Lewis had heard growing up. But now Lewis, a member of Phi Beta Sigma, is an organ donation advocate since he was given two kidneys to save his life.

“I went for a life insurance exam in 1994 and the doctor found a protein in my urine and told me I would potentially need a new kidney in 10 years,” Lewis said. “Almost 10 years after the date of my first kidney failure. My sister was kind enough to donate my first kidney.”

Then, in 2013, Lewis needed a second kidney. He was on dialysis for four years before he could find a kidney.

“Whatever the reason, I got a phone call from a friend of mine, my hairdresser, who told me he had a wife whose son is dying tonight and wants to donate his organs. to someone, ”Lewis said. “An hour later she called me and told me that her son had just passed away and she asked me if I wanted her kidney.”

Lewis and seven others received organs from the deceased son. Now Lewis and mom are good friends, visiting churches around Milwaukee to encourage organ donation.

Waiting for a kidney

Kobena-Marcus J. Collins is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha featured in the Expecting Kidney exhibit.

Collins discovered that his kidneys were failing after going to the dentist for a procedure, where his blood pressure was measured at 213 of 137. Any blood pressure above 180 of 120 is considered a hypertensive crisis and a doctor should be consulted immediately. .

The dentist told Collins to go to the emergency room immediately, where he learned he had two problems that were causing his kidneys to fail.

“Their recommendation was dialysis, but I was in denial,” Collins said. “I thought that if I changed my eating habits, if I exercised, I could prevent it from getting worse. I’ve always been an athlete, so I thought I was special, but unfortunately I didn’t was not. “

In August 2020, Collins had to start emergency dialysis three days a week for four hours.

“These evenings from 4 pm to 9 pm I’m with my family on dialysis instead of my wife and daughter at home,” Collins said.

Collins said he was a registered organ donor before his diagnosis, but if he receives a kidney he will need to take anti-rejection medication and will no longer be able to donate organs.

“That’s probably one of the saddest parts of it all. I was a blood donor since high school,” Collins said. “I hope people see this and feel pressured to join the registry or donate a kidney.”

The exhibit also features works by local black artists who feature organs like lungs and hearts.

“We were thinking about unique ways to talk about things that are not that easy to talk about. And when you bring artists to the table, they are able to do it so creatively,” said Tonnie Boston, director. of Versiti’s community outreach. “It really is a community driven event.”

The virtual exhibit can be viewed online by visiting lifelineexhibition.org.

Jordyn Noennig covers the culture and way of life of Wisconsin. Follow her on Instagram @JordynTaylor_n. Find her on Twitter @JordynTNoennig. Call her at 262-446-6601 or email Jordyn.Noennig@jrn.com.

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