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Nervous mom honors her late daughter — and saves lives

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Artelia Griggs found herself somewhere she never expected to be a few mornings ago: on camera in a TV studio, trying not to show how jittery she was.

Another place she never expected to be: a series of Secretary of State offices, approaching strangers to talk about donating their organs.

She owes both of those experiences to her daughter. Or really, the memory of her daughter. And though they’ll never know it, a lot of people might owe something to the both of them.

Since Angela Griggs died in late 2010, her mother has been a kind and public face of organ donation. Donation is a simple and valuable act, but one that too many people shrink from, particularly in minority communities. It has become Artelia Griggs’ quest to change that — no matter how nervous she might find herself on a Fox2 news set.

Gift of Life MOTTEP will hold its 18th annual LIFE Walk/Run Saturday morning on Belle Isle. MOTTEP stands for Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program, and with the event looming, Griggs and Detroit program director Remonia Chapman chatted with the reassuring Deena Centofanti.

“I got through it,” Griggs says. “I didn’t flub it up.”

Angela would have been proud — and probably amused.

Fatal asthma attack

Angela Yvonne Griggs was buoyant enough that her mother thinks she might have tried show business if her asthma hadn’t held her back.

“She was always in the midst of things,” says Detroiter Griggs, 70, “always keeping the party going.”

Kids were particularly drawn to her: “We called her the Nanny Extraordinaire.” She became a registered nurse, and she was working near Philadelphia when an asthma attack claimed her at 38.

The hospital there called Griggs to ask if she would consider donating Angela’s organs. Before she could decide, the phone rang again.

Angela, it turned out, had put herself on the donor list. That was all her mother needed to adopt donation as a way to “honor her and her legacy, and keep her spirit alive.”

Minorities, Griggs discovered, are less likely than whites to register as organ donors, less likely to have family members consent on their behalf, and less likely to move from a waiting list to a recovery room.

In a truly vicious circle, the lack of minority donors leads to the lower percentage of recipients, since similar races often make for better matches. Minorities also tend to have higher rates of organ-punishing diseases and, historically, less access to health care.

The good news, Chapman says, is that across the past dozen or so years, the donor-list rate among minorities in Wayne County has doubled to more than 20 percent.

Better yet, she says: last year in Michigan, 388,732 people signed up as potential donors by calling (800) 482-4881; navigating to or; or visiting a Secretary of State office.

A quarter of them were minorities.

Organ donation myths

There’s an almost standard list of reasons to not register, most of them dubious.

No, it’s not expensive. Costs are passed on to the recipients.

No, you won’t look disfigured in the casket. Everything is hidden by clothes or replaced with prosthetics.

No, it’s not an incentive for doctors to let you die. They take an oath to keep you upright, and the doctors involved in your care are different from the transplant team.

No, with rare exception, it’s not against your religion.

In fact, Chapman says, four Detroit clergymen who recently received transplants — one set of lungs, two kidneys and a liver — have been preaching the gospel of donation.

So has Griggs, who sometimes encourages staffers at Secretary of State offices to broach the topic with customers, and sometimes talks to the customers herself.

“To be honest,” she says, “some people are downright rude.” Others are curious or have a family member on the list of 3,500 Michiganians awaiting transplants.

Then there was the gentleman last time who seemed unmoved until she made it personal and brought up Angela. “Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?” he asked.

She’s telling everyone now.


Walk this way

Runner and triathlete Richard Bernstein, justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, is the run marshal for Saturday’s Gift of Life MOTTEP LIFE Walk/Run. The Detroit News is a sponsor, and Assistant Managing Editor Felecia D. Henderson is honorary Angels for Life walk/run chair.

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson will be a special guest.

Location: Flynn Pavilion on Belle Isle (no park entry fees Saturday)

Times: Registration will begin at 7 a.m. 5K and 10K runs will start at 8, followed by the 5K walk at 8:30. Kids’ fun run will begin at 10:30. Cafe, entertainment and children’s activities provided.

Fees: Walkers, $35; runners, $40; 12 and younger, free. Participants will receive event T-shirt.