Kim Kamara of Germantown wasn’t pleased the day her 18-year-old informed her that he had gotten his driver’s license and had checked a box marking his intention to be an organ donor.
“We don’t do that,” recalled Kamara, who is African American. “You die with your body parts.”
I mention race because it can be a factor in whether a person agrees to donate organs. Historically, blacks have been less trusting of medical institutions, and also worry about getting proper care once doctors learn that they have registered as potential donors. I’ve fought similar fears myself, although I eventually overcame them and am listed as an organ donor.
“I tried to talk him out of it because I didn’t believe in it,” Kamara, 48, told me Tuesday. “Because I just felt like people were going to steal your body parts. I just felt like he was making a big mistake.”
Niam Johnson-Tate, who was in and out of trouble over the years, didn’t always listen to his mother, and this time was no exception.
Now, five years later, Kamara is glad he didn’t follow her advice about donating his organs. Johnson-Tate, 23, was fatally wounded the evening of July 4 after visiting his fiancee and infant son. No arrests had been made as of Tuesday afternoon.
Shot once in the head, Johnson-Tate was taken to Roxborough Memorial Hospital and later to Temple University Hospital, where he was placed on life support. It was there, during his final moments, that Kamara remembered her son’s insistence that he wanted his organs donated.
“After they told me that he was brain-dead but they wanted to run more tests to confirm it, that’s when I told him that he’s an organ donor,” she said.
Kamara said she was told that her son’s heart, lungs, and kidneys were transplanted into seven recipients, including two babies. It makes her feel good to know that her son’s heart still beats.
“I really want to meet that person, because my son had a beautiful, beautiful spirit,” she said.
So, in death, Johnson-Tate gives life. That’s a beautiful thing. In the U.S., an estimated 22 patients awaiting transplants die each day, according to the Gift of Life Organ Donation program. More than 100,000 people are on waiting lists.
Johnson-Tate’s generosity also seems to have inspired family members. His older sister, Ebony Drake, has decided to become an organ donor, and his mother is leaning that way as well. Their message is so timely. National Minority Donor Awareness Week is coming up from Aug. 1 to 7.
“There’s no better tribute than saving someone else’s life,” said Howard M. Nathan, regional president of the Gift of Life Organ Donation program.
A candlelight vigil was scheduled in Johnson-Tate’s honor for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Lingelbach Elementary School in the 6000 block of Wayne Avenue. His memorial service will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at Pentecostal Bridegroom Temple in the 6400 block of North Wister.
“Despite the tragedy,” his sister said, “he still lives on.”