The Waiting List
Organ donor registrations in Michigan are on the rise, but potential transplant patients still face a supply vs. demand gap
Photograph by Cybelle Codish
In November 2010, Artelia Griggs received the most devastating news: Her daughter, Angela, had died after a severe asthma attack.
In life, Angela “didn’t have a lot herself but she was always willing to give whatever she had to someone else,” says Griggs, who lives in Detroit.
So it was “typical of her” that Angela had signed up to be an organ donor, Griggs says, adding it was “a blessing” that her daughter had already made that decision “because at that time and in the midst of my grief it would have been very difficult for me.
“You don’t ever expect to bury your children,” she says, “but you know when they’ve done something and in their dying they’ve helped someone else to live, that gives you a sense of gratification … even at our lowest hour or at our lowest point. Our loved ones did something special for someone else.”
Angela donated her corneas, tissue, and bone. Since her daughter’s death, Griggs has become an advocate for organ donation as a member of the Michigan Family Donor Council and a donor herself, something she didn’t think was possible as a nine-year survivor of breast cancer.
Donations have helped people like Leslie Taylor-Simo, who has end-stage renal disease. The 37-year-old Canton resident, who has had three kidney transplants, is a social worker at a dialysis office in Ypsilanti — the same unit where she was a patient years ago. She’s battled health problems over the years and is constantly thinking about organ failure, but she doesn’t give up.
“My donor is a fighter,” Taylor-Simo posted recently on Facebook. “Then again, so am I.” She doesn’t ask friends for sympathy, just to sign up as organ donors. She and Griggs continue their fight as advocates on the issue.
In 2011, 27 percent of Michigan’s adults were signed up as organ, eye, and tissue donors, putting the state near the bottom among other states, according to Gift of Life Michigan, the state’s only federally designated organ and tissue donation program. After a push from Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to expand the donor rolls, Michigan is at roughly the national average for the percentage of adults signed up on the registry, with more than 50 percent. More than 3.8 million people are on the state’s Organ Donor Registry. In Wayne, 20 percent of adults were registered, in Oakland 30 percent, and Macomb 25 percent. Now there are 36 percent registered donors in Wayne, 51 percent in Oakland, and 45 percent in Macomb.
The registry numbers may be up, but the number of people on the national waiting list continues to grow, especially for kidneys. According to the National Kidney Foundation,
out of the 123,000-plus people waiting for an organ, more than 101,000 people are waiting for a kidney. As diet-related diseases rise, so does chronic kidney disease; diabetes and high blood pressure are responsible for up to two-thirds of the cases.
As of February, there were more than 3,400 people in Michigan in need of an organ transplant, according to Gift of Life Michigan. From Jan. 1, 2010 to Feb. 1, 2015, the waiting list added an average of eight people per month.