‘Giving Me Life’ art exhibit debuts at AHS Highland Hospital for Donate Life Month

by Ricquel Jackson

All these folks are alive today because someone said Yes! to organ and tissue donation.

The “Giving Me Life: A Visual Journey of African-American Organ and Tissue Transplant Recipients” art exhibit has officially opened at the Alameda Health System (AHS) Highland Care Pavilion Lobby. AHS has partnered with Donor Network West, the organ and tissue recovery organization for Northern California and Nevada, to bring “Giving Me Life” to AHS. The exhibit underscores the need for more registered donors within the African-American community through social documentary. April is Donate Life Month and the exhibit will be on display at Highland until April 30.

Antwone Johnson, the brother of organ donor Anthony Johnson, gave a very emotional testimony at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 4. “I lost my brother about a year ago at Highland Hospital. He died unexpectedly after experiencing seizures that sent him into cardiac arrest. When I was first approached about donating his organs I was not interested, but as I sat in the hospital, I reflected on the fact that he was the kindest person I ever met. He would give you his last dollar without knowing where his next one was coming from. I joke that I hope the cruelest, corrupt person received my brother’s heart because there is no way they can continue to be unkind with a piece of Tony in their body.”

In addition, Johnson shared that he is humbled to be able to save someone else’s life through his decision to donate his brother’s organs.

Currently, African-Americans make up 5 percent of the 13 million people in Donor Network West’s donation service area. However, they represent 10 percent of those waiting for organ transplants in the region. The exhibit is a visual testimonial of nine local African-American transplant recipients who have overcome incredible obstacles in their respective journeys toward health and wellness thanks to organ and tissue donation.

“We are pleased to collaborate with Alameda Health System to bring the ‘Giving Me Life’ exhibit to Highland Hospital in Oakland, which boasts a proud legacy of African-American culture, art and social justice. We deeply respect Alameda Health System’s commitment to promoting healthy equity and access for all patients, 30 percent of whom are African-American. Our hope is to spark new conversations and inspire more African-Americans to register as organ donors,” said Janice F. Whaley, chief executive officer of Donor Network West.

Damita Barbee, a double-lung transplant recipient from Antioch and one of the people featured in the Giving Me Life exhibit, will be traveling to Italy this year, something she was not able to do five years ago. She was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, but is now thriving. In her spare time, she shares her story with others, hoping to encourage as many people as possible to become registered donors.

“I am very passionate about finding solutions that will help our patients live healthy lives. There are many people on the transplant waiting list, and this exhibit is a great way to raise awareness about the need,” said Luis Fonseca, AHS chief operating officer and Donor Network West board member.

About 50 people attended the event. Participants included Donor Network West Ambassadors, transplant recipients, donor families, AHS staff, community members, and representatives from Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Assembly Member Rob Bonta’s office.

Nearly 1,400 people are waiting for an organ transplant in Alameda County. One organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people, and a tissue donor can heal 75 others. Anyone can register as a donor at DonorNetworkWest.org or at the DMV.

Donor Network West can be reached via Public Affairs Manager Noel Sánchez at nsanchez@dnwest.org. This story was originally published at Alameda Health System.