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Jesse White urges donor registry on visit to DeKalb

DeKALB – Last year, Shirley Gunn of DeKalb took her then-12-year-old son, Jonathon Bell, to the emergency room because she thought he had the flu.

Jonathon needed a heart transplant.

“He got his heart on Easter Sunday [2008,] and he was so weak he couldn’t speak,” Gunn said. “I am so grateful to that [donor].”

Gunn and Bell were among several local organ recipients who spoke at DeKalb news conferences Wednesday in which Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White promoted the state’s organ donor registry. Nationwide, there are more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for organs, he said.

Billi Tierney of Sycamore said her liver failed four years ago due to pregnancy complications. She was at the top of the waiting list when she received a new liver a few days later, she said.

“Due to that organ donor, I am able to be a mom,” she said. “I take care of this liver and I cherish it. I am so grateful to that person.”

Roger Grandys of DeKalb said because of the 19-year-old man who gave him his heart 11 years ago, he lived to see the birth of two grandchildren.

“This program isn’t about recipients, and it isn’t about hearts and lungs and kidneys,” Grandys said. “It’s about donors, the people who stand up and make the decision, ‘I want to help.’”

At a noon news conference at Northern Illinois University, White recalled years ago making the decision not to donate the organs of his brother. A few years after his brother’s death, White said, “a light came on” when his sister needed a kidney transplant and had to turn to the donor list.

In addition to promoting organ donation, White was urging donors to sign up for the state’s first-person registry, implemented in January 2006. Those who put themselves in the database give permission for their organs to be harvested without requiring the consent of surviving family members. Under the old system requiring family consent, about 20 percent of organs were not harvested because families refused in the stress of the moment, White said.

Of the 6.3 million Illinoisans who have signed up to be organ donors, 4.3 million are on the first-person registry, while the remaining 2 million are still on the old system requiring family consent, he said.

White made appearances with local organ recipients Wednesday at Kishwaukee Community Hospital, where he dedicated a Donate Life tree, the DeKalb driver services facility and at NIU, where he announced a partnership with the athletic department.

One game during NIU’s football season and one double-header during the basketball season will be dedicated as “Donate Life” events, NIU associate vice president and athletic director Jeff Compher said. Fans at the games will be able to put themselves on the registry, and the university and student athletes will advertise and promote the events in advance, he said.

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