Singing the Gift of Life at the Phillies game

Arlinda Griffin gets a kiss from Mary Smith before Griffin sang the National Anthem before the start of the Phillies/Braves game. Griffin was accompanied onto the field by Smith, the mother of her organ donor, who became a friend and helped arrange the performance on the night the Phillies recognize the Gift of Life program. on Saturday, July 29, 2017 in Philadelphia.

Ever since she was a little girl, Arlinda Griffin had a secret dream of singing the national anthem at a Phillies game.

Her dream came true Saturday night.

Griffin’s  gospel- and soul-inflected a cappella performance before the Phillies-Braves game was one more miracle in an unusual journey. It began in 2011 when the North Philadelphia woman  received a life-saving double-organ transplant from a 23-year-old Temple University graduate who died after a car accident.

A year ago, Griffin confided her dream of singing at Citizens Bank Park to  Mary Smith of Warminster, whose son Eric had checked off the box to become an organ donor when he got his first driver’s license. Smith, who had forged a friendship with Griffin after she received two of her son’s organs, helped arrange for her to perform and escorted her onto the field as the Phillies observed organ donor awareness night.

“Overwhelming. It was like an out-of-body experience,” said Griffin, 43, who mostly sings at Morris Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in North Philadelphia. “I think I will be a beacon of light to show people who may be waiting for a transplant or are considering becoming a donor.”

“It brought me to tears,”  said Smith, 60. “It’s just miraculous, really.”

Smith, who owns an insurance agency in New Britain, added: “I’ve had the opportunity to participate in something that’s going to touch a large number of people. Just to know that [Eric’s] death made Arlinda’s life so much better than she had ever hoped it would be. I’m hoping that people who attend the game will appreciate the value of being an organ donor.”


Camera icon YONG KIM/Staff photographer
Arlinda Griffin sings the national anthem before the start of the Phillies-Braves game Saturday. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer.

Griffin had a severe case of diabetes that robbed her of most of her sight and required her to undergo kidney dialysis three days a week. She was on a transplant waiting list for a pancreas and a new kidney for two years and 10 days.

Eric Smith, a Temple business grad who worked in the contracts division of Lockheed Martin, was driving home from the Jersey Shore in the early hours of June 12, 2011, when he fell asleep, drove through a red light and was hit broadside at Broad Street and Oregon Avenue.

He was declared brain-dead and placed on life support at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. The Smith family talked to Gift of Life representatives about donating his organs in accordance with the decision Eric Smith had made when he got his driver’s license.

Several people received organ and tissue transplants. Griffin received his donated pancreas and a kidney in an operation at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and that cured her of diabetes.

Howard M. Nathan, president and CEO of the Philadelphia-based Gift of Life Donor Program, said transplant recipients, including children, have thrown out the first pitch at Phillies games at the annual donor-awareness night at Citizens Bank Park. But Griffin, he said, was the first to sing the national anthem. “It’s great,” he said.

Since the regional nonprofit was founded in 1974, Nathan said, it has coordinated 44,000 organ transplants, “which is the largest anywhere in the United States. We are proud of that, and we are proud of our families. Transplants don’t just happen.”
He said donor families and recipients sometimes develop personal ties, but most do not become as close as Griffin and Smith.

“I thank God for the connection we have,” said Griffin,  a former security guard supervisor who crochets handbags and sells prepared meal platters. “The relationship is amazing. Unfortunately, it was a tragedy that brought us together. But through the tragedy there has been a feeling of love and a great friendship that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”