When Terra DeFoe encouraged her then-18-year-old son Emilio to sign up at the Secretary of State’s office to become an organ donor and place a red heart on his drivers license, she told him it was a good thing to do and explain it was the reason his grandmother has mismatched eyes.
She didn’t think surgeons would look to that red heart sticker six years later when a 10-hour surgery could not alleviate the bleeding in Emilio’s brain after he had a heart aneurism.
Now, six people carry parts of him and she has been involved in outreach ever since her son’s death in 2014.
“It’s a continued work, it’s truly a love story that will continue on because it continues going through someone else,” DeFoe said. “With the major health challenges that take place in our city, organ donation is a form of that selfless act, that person’s last selfless act.”
DeFoe will join other donor families, recipients and organ donation advocates this weekend for the 20th anniversary of the Gift of Life Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP) LIFE Walk/Run. The event is Saturday on Belle Isle State Park.
Participants can choose between a 5K walk or 5K and 10K runs. There also will be a fun run for kids, led by 6-year-old Jamir Wilson, a member of a donor family, diabetes and breast cancer screenings, blood pressure checks, massages and a cafe with farm-to-table tasting and healthy cooking demonstrations.
Funds raised from the event will benefit donation education in Michigan.
The walk had humble beginnings — just a 5K walk in 1997 with less than 50 people as a way of promoting Minority Donor Awareness Day, Aug. 1. Twenty years later, more than 1.2 million people have walked or run to kick off Minority Donor Awareness Week, Aug. 1-8.
In those 20 years, organ and tissue donation statistics, particularly in minority communities, have risen dramatically.
Per the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, people of color make up 58 percent of the organ donation waiting lists. African-Americans comprise 30 percent of the population in need of donations, but have the lowest donation rates. Now, the multicultural donation rate has more than doubled, from 10 to 25 percent, with about 58 percent of the eligible Michigan population signed up to donate.
“We’re right there, and we think we can reach (60 percent),” said Remonia Chapman, MOTTEP program director. When Michigan reached a 50-percent donation population two years ago, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson came to the walk to celebrate.
Throughout the year, MOTTEP interweaves its message wherever it can, Chapman said. Public events include Driver’s Ed and city ID programs, college campus challenges, myth-busting symposiums, “Lunch and Learn” sessions, church health fairs, hospital events, cultural events like Cinco de Mayo, Jazz on the Ave, Donate Life Day with the Tigers, and Community Day in southwest Detroit.
“There’s no event that’s too large or too small,” Chapman said.
MOTTEP’s strongest partner, she said, is the Secretary of State. Its mandatory ask policy has clerks ask people renewing their licenses if they would like to sign up. The group’s most successful initiatives are the Angels for Life programs at churches, working with the Secretary of State and the city ID programs.
MOTTEP also promotes disease prevention because African-Americans and Hispanics used to be wait-listed more often due to higher risks of developing end-stage kidney disease. Now, however, those increases in donation rates have helped close the gap between people wait-listed and matching donors.
“This is something we’re very proud of,” Chapman said, citing United Network for Organ Sharing’s recent announcement that the percentage of people wait-listed and donors are practically the same.
Speakers at Saturday’s LIFE Walk/Run include Dorrie Dils, Gift of Life Michigan’s new CEO and a first-time participant; Mr. Chase, a former Detroit radio personality waiting for a kidney transplant; and DeFoe, the Honorary Community Engagement Chair and the public engagement senior advisor to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.
DeFoe who has done engagement for the state Democratic Caucus from 2005-2008, will share her son’s story at the walk, in the hopes that other young men will hear it, sign up and encourage their friends to do the same.
“There’s been a stigma, but more people are being helped with transplant hearts, eyes, skin, tissue and other various organs,” DeFoe said. “People are changing other people’s quality of life through a simple act of kindness.”
About the event
To sign up for the MOTTEP Gift of LIFE Walk/Run, go to motteplifewalk.org. Supporters can also register on site at Belle Isle beginning at 7 a.m.
The 5K and 10K runs will begin at 8 a.m., while the 5K walk starts at 8:30 a.m.
$35 for walkers, $40 for runners.
The event is dog-friendly: Sebastian’s Doggy Station will be there, handing out treats and bags.