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Ask anyone in the Shreveport-Bossier City, LA area who has had their life impacted by someone gracious enough to 'donate life,' if it makes a difference. I can promise you, it does.

April is National Donate Life Month. DonateLife.net describes the month as, 'an observance focusing national attention on the need and importance of organ, eye and tissue donation. National Donate Life Month is about the importance of registering your decision to be a donor, honoring deceased and living donors, and celebrating the lives they saved. It is the generosity of donors and donor families that makes saving lives through transplantation possible.'

Why should you be an organ donor in Louisiana?

According to the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency, over 2,000 Louisiana residents are currently on the organ transplant list. Registering to be an organ donor takes less than five minutes and can be done inside the app LA Wallet, through the Louisiana Donor Registry, or at your local Office of Motor Vehicles. A 2002 poll found that 41% of Americans are now registered organ donors. 39% of people in the poll said they know someone who's received an organ. That's why it's so important to become an organ donor.

That's some pretty heavy stuff, and in just a minute, I'll tell you why I'm so invested in organ donation, but first, it's all about the celebration, this Friday, April 5, 2024. The Willis Knighton John C. McDonald Transplant Center in Shreveport has teamed up with the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency to mark Donate Life Month with a donor flag-raising ceremony at 10 am in the auditorium of Willis Knighton Eye Institute, 2611 Greenwood Road in Shreveport. A flag will then be raised in front of Willis Knighton North at around 10:30 followed by a reception to honor donors will follow at the Eye Institute.

But they're just not raising flags... they want to save lives and as a result, they're hosting donor drives to educate folks on what's involved and get them signed up. Donor drives will be held from 10 am to 1 pm near the cafeteria at Willis Knighton North on Monday, April 8th, at Willis Knighton Bossier on April 9th, at Willis Knighton Pierremont on April 10th, at Willis Knighton South on April 11th, and at Willis Knighton Rehabilitation Institute on April 12th.

I could give you the facts and stats like more than 103,000 men, women, and children are waiting for transplants in the United States right now, but I'd rather share my story. You see, an organ donor saved my dad's life and gave me 16 more years with him. That's a gift you can't say thank you enough for.

My father was a heart transplant recipient while I was in high school. You have no idea what an impact someone making that loving gesture can make in the lives of so many other people. My father was dying. He had his first heart attack when I was eight. He retired medically from the Air Force after 22 years as a Lt. Colonel. As a result, I have very few childhood memories that don't involve my father being sick or in the hospital.

My family moved away from Haughton, LA, the summer before my junior year in 1990 to Greenville, Ohio because our area didn't have the medical facilities at the time to keep him alive. He spent most of his time at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX. My brother was out of school and living his life. My mom couldn't leave my dad or me alone since I was still a kid. We didn't have family here like most military families. My mother's parents were in Ohio and my father's parents had long passed. So, we moved and it was hard. The move took a tremendous physical toll on my father. He spent that summer at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Dayton, while I lived with my grandparents, kicking around their farm trying to make the cultural adjustment from mid-South Shreveport to an extremely rural mid-Western area.

Things weren't looking good. Then a miracle happened. There was a fairly new transplant program at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis). My father finally qualified for the program after a long hard road and within days, a heart was found. Those knowledgeable about these things would know it was a true miracle. In addition to having to be from someone with a matching blood type, etc... the organ has to be from someone from a similar body size and my daddy was a big man. Fitting, because he had a huge heart!

Thanks to the selflessness of another and their family, I got to enjoy 16 more years with my father. As many of you know, he almost made it to walk me down the aisle. God love him, he finished just short of the finish line, but he tried. So, thank you. Thank you to that nameless donor. Thank you to their family. Thank you for the memories you have given me and my family. Thank you for letting my daddy be there at my high school graduation, and my college graduation, for being able to be around to hear me on the air, and, of course, to kick my butt when I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing... Which I wasn't... a lot!

So, in closing, this wasn't for me to spill my guts, it was for you to think twice the next time you're asked about organ donation. Check the organ donor box. You'll be gone someday. We all will. Give the gift of love. Give the gift of life. I am.

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