On a beautiful summer day, Marion Shuck, a longtime executive at Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, was enjoying a morning bike ride with her husband before work.
It was a daily routine for the avid cyclists. But this one would be far from routine.
“We were laughing and talking, and he went in front of me, and all of a sudden, he just fell off his bike,” Shuck recounts of that morning a month and a half ago. “I started CPR and called for help. Some wonderful people helped me until the ambulance came.”
Her husband of 32 years, Reginald Shuck, 65, a real estate broker, was transported to University of Chicago Hospitals, where he died.
And the work Shuck has been engaged in for the past 10 years came full circle.
“Once I realized he wasn’t going to recover, I called the tissue authorization program at our donor resource center in Itasca,” said Shuck, speaking after Gift of Hope’s Aug. 1 press conference promoting this National Minority Donor Awareness Month.
“I knew he wasn’t going to be a candidate for organ donation because he had been down for quite a while, but he could be a candidate for tissue donation,” said the director of donor family services and community outreach at the organization serving northern Illinois and Northwest Indiana.
One of 58 nonprofit, federally designated organ procurement organizations nationwide, Gift of Hope coordinates with donors, recipients and hospital transplant centers. Shuck started there as a recruitment coordinator 10 years ago, moving up through the ranks.
Nationally, more than 113,000 people are on the wait list for organ donations; in Illinois, nearly 4,078. Another person is added every 10 minutes. But the shortage of donors continues.
An average of 20 people die daily while waiting. Meanwhile, one organ donor can save up to eight lives; a tissue donor, up to 50.
Shuck has counseled many families on organ donorship at their moments of loss, but it was quite another thing to walk in their shoes.
“I tell people all the time: At that particular moment, it will be a blur. You shouldn’t have to have a conversation with someone about what your loved one would want. Have that conversation long before,” said Shuck.
“For me, it was an out-of-body experience. It’s suddenly happening to you, and in real time. Reggie was registered, so there wasn’t any decision to make,” she said.
“And so I think the message continues. Even though I work at Gift of Hope, I didn’t escape. This is going to happen to you as it happened to me. So be prepared. I read a helpful quote once: ‘100 percent of the people you love are going to die.’ And we prepare for everything else, but often not the one thing that happens to us all,” she said.
“My plea is to have a conversation with your loved ones about organ donorship, or end-of-life wishes in general.”
The Gift of Hope event served dually as an unveiling of the organization’s new headquarters in Chatham, the 48,000-square-foot, shuttered Urban Partnership Bank at 7936 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
Acquired last September by south suburban-based Providence Bank & Trust, it was sold in January to Gift of Hope, expanding from smaller offices in Bronzeville. In March, Gift of Hope occupied the third floor of the building currently under rehab.
Plans call for the Community Blood Center to operate a blood donation site there; and for the blood center, Gift of Hope and Malcolm X College to partner on a workforce development program training area youth in phlebotomy and other health care fields.
Dignitaries celebrating the reclaiming of the vacant bank Thursday included U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Illinois; state Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago; Alds. Michelle Harris (8th) and Roderick Sawyer (6th), and City Clerk Anna Valencia, whose father was undergoing dialysis seven days a week for kidney failure before receiving a new kidney in March.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who made organ donorship a crusade of his 20 years in that office because his sister received a kidney transplant in 1991, will host Tuesday his own National Minority Donor Awareness Month event, at noon at the Thompson Center plaza.
“Wave Away the Waiting” seeks to encourage communities of color to register as donors.
“African Americans represent 59% of those awaiting arrival of an organ, yet only 33% of our community participates in organ donorship,” White said Friday.
“We’re very proud that after passing legislation allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to register when they get their driver’s license or state ID, we’ve had 83,000 youth sign up since last year, so young people are stepping up to the plate and making a difference,” he said.
“Illinois’ 6.7 million-person registry may now lead the nation. We need communities of color to not buy into the myths that prevent them from registering.”