By DAVID BROCK | Central Kentucky News
Many Kentucky basketball fans dream of being a part of the annual rivalry with the University of Louisville, but one local organ transplant recipient got the privilege of declaring victory at center court amidst the excitement of the state’s grandest basketball showcase.
Jean Crawford Griffin, a six organ transplant recipient, and her husband Tony Griffin, were at center court at the Yum! Center in Louisville Friday before the UK-UofL basketball game to receive the trophy on behalf of UK for winning the Gift of Life Challenge. Just as in the game, UK came out on top in the annual drive the schools participate in to sign up organ donors that began in 2001.
Crawford Griffin stressed that the challenge is a competition in name only and said she was just happy for the opportunity to represent all of Kentucky's organ and tissue recipients. However, Crawford Griffin, who holds two degrees from UK and has a daughter, Christie Cummins Jackson, who also is an alum, said Big Blue coming out on top did make the good news even better.
“I was one proud Wildcat fan and UK graduate today — all smiles throughout the game, but even more proud and honored to have had the opportunity to represent Kentucky's transplant recipients and to show how deeply we appreciate and love our states' donor families.” Crawford Griffin said.
Crawford Griffin is uniquely qualified for her advocacy role. With just days to live in 2006, she received a rare multi-organ transplant replacing her large and small intestines, liver, pancreas, spleen and stomach.
Crawford Griffin actually purchased tickets to the game as a Christmas present for her husband and only found out about the chance to receive the trophy two weeks ago. She has become accustomed to speaking in her role with Kentucky Organ Donors, but said the crowd of nearly 23,000 was by far the largest audience she has been able to reach.
“Of course we were kind of nervous at first and we seemed so small there on the floor, but it was great to see a mixture of red and blue, thousands of people that got to receive that message. We were so blessed to get to be there. Hopefully, many more lives are going to be saved because of the challenge.”
Crawford Griffin was also overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from those in her section and being displayed on the Jumbotron for several minutes surrounded by transplant recipients, donor families and other activists while the public address announcer read the introduction. The UofL mascot, who told Crawford Griffin he is a registered donor, even pitched in by wearing one of the shirts that were being given out in the crowd.
Specific donor numbers for each school were not available at press time, but the challenge did help reach an even more important mark. The state organ donor registry, which gets most of it sign-ups through Kentucky circuit court clerks offices, reached its goal of registering 1 million donors in the state by the end of 2010.
“Both presidents of the universities recognized and supported The Gift of Life Challenge in an effort to save lives through organ and tissue donation and transplantation,” Crawford Griffin said. “Combining these efforts with the Kentucky circuit clerks, the goal of having 1 million registered organ donors in the state of Kentucky was reached almost one full month before the goal of Dec. 31, 2010.”
Shelley Heavrin, executive director of the Kentucky Court Clerks Trust for Life, said the results of the challenge are encouraging, but noted that the need for organs is still high.
Heavrin said 110,000 people nationwide and 700 in Kentucky are on transplant lists. A new name is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes nationally and 18 people die waiting for a transplant every day.
Crawford Griffin is not the only one in her family who has been touched by organ donation and the season for humbling recognition didn’t end with Friday’s game for the Griffins.
Tony Griffin’s sister, Gail Griffin, died in 2008 and her organs were donated. Gail will be one of those memorialized on the Donate Life Float in the Rose Bowl Parade, along with other Kentucky donor families.
The family of Missy Fields, a former student at West Jessamine Middle School where Crawford Griffin taught, will be honored during the event.