Kenneth L. Hardin: Heaven knows we need your tissue and organs here

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 2, 2024

By Kenneth L. Hardin

I have an addiction that I don’t want help for because sometimes it serves me well. No, I’ve never partaken of illegal substances and don’t have any vices that would land me in the police blotter or the front page of this paper with my head bowed in shame. My addiction is to television. I keep mine on 24/7, even when I’m pretending to be deep in the throes of REM sleep. If I go out, I leave it on for my 11-year-old rescue dog, Bandit, so he won’t be bored or feel alone. I don’t think he cares either way because typically he’s perched up on the back of the living room sofa patiently staring out of the window until I get back.

When I’m not immersed in a movie on all the platforms I subscribe to, the TV is basically just background filler noise. Last week, however, as I was in the middle of doing a whole lot of nothing in particular in my bedroom, a story on one of the cable news channels caught my attention. A distraught mother was sharing how her eight-year-old son had died in a tragic accident, and she had donated his tissue and organs. She found solace in that her son’s untimely death would provide life for a number of other people. I fell back in my easy chair and watched with water welling up in my eyes as she told of how his tiny heart had been given to another child and that they had agreed to allow her to hear it beat inside the new chest.

Watching this new story made me reflect back on my time working in healthcare, where I gently approached mothers like the one I watched, to respectfully ask for the same. Early in my career, before I moved up into healthcare leadership roles, it was my primary responsibility to notify families of the death of a loved one, put the deceased into a body bags and transport them to the morgue. I’ve held the hands of many grieving parents, spouses and others as I’ve made that difficult announcement to and unzipped body bags for to offer closure. But one of the more challenging things I did was to approach an already distraught and grieving family to ask them to make a time-sensitive decision to allow their loved one’s tissue and organs to be harvested. I don’t say this with any pride or an attempt at an air of being braggadocious, but I never had a family refuse my request.

We received expert training from an external oversight agency and were armed with a litany of facts and lifesaving benefits a person’s donated tissue and organs could have. I positioned it as an altruistic endeavor in that the tragedy of the loss of life could result in the giving and sustaining another’s life. I helped family’s recognize that their loved one would live on and continue to give back to humanity through this truly unselfish act of love. When a family member hears that by their loved one’s organ donation, eight other lives could be saved, two people’s eyesight could be restored and 75 more lives could be positively enhanced with their tissue, it makes the pain of their loss a little easier to deal with. I would often share with families statistics that are reported by the Donate Life America nonprofit organization, “More than 100,000 people are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants, every 8 minutes another person is added to the national transplant waiting list, 5,600 people in the U.S. die each year while on the transplant waiting list, 16 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant, and 86% of patients who are waiting need a kidney. Kidney needs and transplants are more prevalent in minority communities because of  higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease that contribute to this organ failure. So, skinfolk need to step up and increase the numbers of living donors. The Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Minority Health shared that in 2021, 18.7% of Africans in America were living donors as compared to 33.6% of whites.

In 2023, more than 23,000 donors gave new life to recipients. Statistics show more people need to step up and leave them here instead of taking them with you to heaven or hell if that’s the path you’re on. I recall a slogan from nearly 30 years ago when I was active in this area. It read, “Don’t take your tissue and organs to heaven, God knows we need them here.” If you’ve done enough to qualify to ride that escalator skyward, rest assured your religion supports your decision to give life. All the major religions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Catholicism, Evangelicalism, Christianity, Greek Orthodox Church, Amish, Assembly of God, Christian Science, Mormon, Baptist, Quakers and even the church I attend every Sunday, the Bedside Baptist of Watching TV, support this choice.

To get started, sign up as an organ donor when you renew your driver’s license. Have a conversation with your family as they will have the final decision. If you have questions or concerns, contact Donate Life NC at 919-451-7893 or visit their website at

 Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.