Family visits Miss. while on cross-country tour for organ donation
LAREECA RUCKER | Clarion Ledger
Calls from telemarketers in the middle of the night were met with hope, disappointment and a return to worry. "There were times I was out of cell phone range, and I was just scared to death," he said.
The Illinois resident spent weeks on edge awaiting a kidney/pancreas transplant in Wisconsin. He had lived with diabetes for 30 years before the disease destroyed his kidneys.
Seven years later, the healthy 42-year-old is on a 50-state journey with his family promoting the importance of organ donation with his website MyStateCares.org.
Last April, the Greiners sold their home and began traveling to each state, challenging residents to register as donors.
They are in Mississippi this week.
"You are literally waiting for a phone call to tell you if you are going to live or die," said Greiner, who had an hour to respond and five to make it to the hospital when he finally received the lifesaving call.
"Because of my transplant, I am no longer diabetic," he said. "I am actually healthy now."
Greiner later met his donor's parents and learned that her name was Annie. The young woman died at age 21 from arteriovenous malformation, a genetic condition that showed no symptoms other than a headache just before her death.
Greiner said his life is her legacy. "Part of this trip is to say thank you to Annie," he said. "It was because of her decision that I am alive today."
Greiner, wife Sheri and their son, Levi, 13, and daughter, Chloe, 10, plan to visit all 50 states. At each stop the family hopes to encourage residents to be organ donors. "One of the ways we thought we could do that is to use state pride," he said.
"When you register, you've suddenly become a hero. You've also made a decision that someday your family won't have to make for you."
According to the United Network For Organ Sharing website, there are approximately 110,000 people in the nation awaiting organ transplants. "There are over 1,200 just in the state of Mississippi," Greiner said. Kevin Stump, CEO of the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency, said about a third of people awaiting transplants die before receiving them. "What better act can you do as the last thing on earth than save someone's life," he said. Stump said around 400,000 Mississippians have registered to be donors. "Last year, we saw a 10 percent increase in the previous year in the number of people who have signed up," he said.
"Mississippians have always been kind of tagged as the most generous in the financial realm to give to others, and as we get people educated about the facts of donation, they are willing to help others this way too."
Sheri Greiner said Mississippi is the 39th state the family has visited since the tour began. "I hope those who read this will be moved to take less than five minutes to register if they haven't already as an organ donor," she said. "What else can we do in life that is so simple, takes so little time and is free.
"I can't even tell you where I would be today without Annie.
In 2010, Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency recovered 261 organs for transplant from 74 donors. There were 107 tissue donors.
Nearly 1,200 Mississippians are on the organ transplant waiting list. Almost 1,100 are awaiting a kidney transplant.
Mississippi had 257 eye donors in 2010 that resulted in 203 cornea transplants. Through the Mississippi Lions Eye Bank. 107 corneas were shared with other states and internationally.
One organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people, and one tissue donor has the power to enhance the quality of life for up to 75 people.
Each day, an average of 18 people die nationally because they need an unavailable organ.
In some instances, vital organs have been recovered from donors up to age 90. Tissue donations can occur up to age 65; and eye donors, up to age 75.
Source: Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency