DETROIT (WXYZ) — We talk about the need for organ donors all the time, but the one thing we rarely speak about publicly is the mental aspect of organ transplantation.
That's why Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit is doing a symposium this month to enlighten the public about what really goes on when a loved one desperately needs an organ or has received the gift of life.
Imagine you just made it through a nine-month pregnancy and then the unthinkable happens when your child is born.
“What was that like to hear your baby needs a heart?” WXYZ’s Carolyn Clifford asked.
“I could not speak. I was like, 'Wow, not my baby,'” mom Lawanda McClendon said.
McClendon and her husband were scared knowing they might lose God's gift, their baby Benjamin.
“I got to hold him for about 60 seconds that was it,” McClendon said.
“Our surgeons, they have to put them on what's called a heart bypass machine. So, it takes over the work of the heart and the heart is actually stopped,” Dr. Jennifer Blake of Children's Hospital of Michigan Transplant team said.
“Did they have to prepare you mentally to get ready for Benjamin to have his heart stopped?” Clifford asked.
“My mental health had to be ready, had to be stable,” McClendon said.
According to Donate Life America, 1,900 children are on the national transplant waiting list, and more than 500 children waiting are between 1 and 5 years old.
Children's Hospital of Michigan is one of eight transplant centers in the state doing 10 to 12 solid organ transplants a year.
“Why do you do this work?” Clifford asked Blake.
“I do it because there are many difficult days, but I look at him and I think to myself what the world would have been like without him and I can't even imagine it,” Blake answered.
Benjamin had a congenital heart defect and narrowing of his coronary arteries. No surgery would save him — only a transplant. They waited from August until November of 2021.
“There is a risk of dying. Probably bleeding and stroke are the biggest complications,” Blake said.
“How do you prepare someone like Lawanda for this mentally?” Clifford asked.
“We try to be very supportive and very understanding,” Blake said.
That's why Children's Hospital is teaming up with Detroit MOTTEP, Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program, to do an all-day virtual symposium on March 17 to unpack the mental aspect of waiting, receiving and living with a new organ.
“Are Black people still hesitant about becoming an organ donor?” Clifford asked.
“Yes,” responded Erika Dudley, Children’s Hospital of Michigan director of Transplant Services.
MOTTEP gift of life was founded to increase transplantation in the minority community.
“Why is this symposium so important, especially right now?” Clifford asked
“Mental health matters in transplantation and that is the healing of the mind and body and that is what we are experiencing as a nation right now,” Dudley said.
Dr. Jocelyn McCrae is a clinical psychologist at Children's Hospital of Michigan. She counsels families.
“We're really looking to see where children and families are in terms of risk factors, protective factors, how they are coping with the stress of chronic illness,” McCrae said.
Everyone is invited to attend the symposium from health care workers to families.
“The patients, their parents, anyone who is involved with their care,” McCrae said.
For the McClendon’s the toughest hurdle is over. Now, it is about Benjamin's life with his new heart and spreading the word about organ donation.
“When you look at him now, what do you think?” Clifford asked.
“Oh my God,” McLendon said. “I believe in miracles and Benjamin is a miracle and the donor will always live on through Benjamin.”