‘It’s a wonderful gift to be able to give someone’

State Rep. Cynthia Neeley, a kidney donor, advocates for organ, tissue donation

FLINT — State Rep. Cynthia Neeley wants everyone to know something about organ donation: it’s not as difficult as you might think.

Neeley, who was elected to serve the 34th district last year after her husband, Sheldon, was elected as the mayor of Flint, knows first-hand: she donated a kidney to her younger sister, Debra, about 10 years ago.

“It’s a wonderful gift to be able to give someone. It didn’t affect me at all,” said Neeley, 52, who serves on the House Health Policy Committee. “I’m still living a healthy life. My sister is still here. I’m just so happy about it.”

Her sister had always been healthy and active, but suddenly found herself in ailing health. High Blood Pressure was partially to blame. When her caregivers told Debra she’d need a new kidney, she was reluctant to ask family – and particularly reluctant to accept help from her older sister.

“She was not a great fan of me being a kidney donor for her,” Neeley said. “She went around me and tried to find anybody else within the family – or outside the family – that would donate.”

She insisted on being tested, however, just in case. The pair turned out to be a 99.9 percent match.

“You don’t usually get that, even with twins,” Neeley said. “I told her it was meant to be.”

Debra relented and the rest is history. Both are happy, healthy and active. Neeley said she wants to reach out to minority populations, who are somewhat skeptical of organ donation as well as the health care system in general and let them know there is little to fear.

“It’s not as difficult as you think. Yes, we have two kidneys, but we don’t necessarily need two kidneys to continue with life,” she said. “I haven’t had one issue since I donated that kidney 10 years ago. You can have a regular life after donating a kidney.”

Minorities remain an important group to reach. More than half the men, women and children waiting for a life-saving organ transplant are people of color, yet people in multi-cultural communities are more reluctant to sign up as donors. There are more than 100,000 people waiting for a new life-saving organ in the U.S. and more than 60 percent of them represent racial and ethnic minorities.

In Michigan, there are about 2,500 people waiting for a new organ; of those about half are of African American, Latinx or Arab American descent.

August is National Minority Donor Awareness Month, which seeks to change those statistics by promoting the need for multicultural people to sign up on the Organ donor Registry, educating the public about the benefits of donation and celebrating the stories of donors, donor families and transplant recipients.

Neeley was a registered donor since she was young and said she encourages everyone to sign up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” she said. “If I could do it over again, I would definitely do it again. I think it’s important that we do that for each other.”

For more, or to sign up on the Donor Registry, visit golm.org.