Subdued spokesman asks minorities to rethink organ donation

David Freeman’s sense of humor takes a little getting used to. But then you’re hooked.

“My running joke at the DMV was when they’d ask if I was an organ donor, ‘I’d say no, I’m a trumpet player,” Freeman said, his soft eyes crinkling up to accompany his soft but sometimes weary laugh.

The lifelong Champaign-area resident changed his tune about a year ago when he learned he had kidney cancer and would need a transplant to survive.

“Sometimes minorities aren’t guided in the right way about registering to be organ donors,” Freeman said. “They have misconceptions. They think it’s better to leave someone’s body intact after they pass instead of lending a hand and saving lives.”

Freeman will join Secretary of State Jesse White and others at Carle on Tuesday to try to change that trend by promoting National Minority Donor Awareness Week. Nearly 60 percent of people on organ donation waiting lists are minorities, while only about 30 percent are registered donors, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says.

“Our mission is to sign up everyone who is eligible in order to give others a second chance at life and end the waiting for the approximately 5,000 people statewide,” White said this spring when the state’s organ and tissue donor registry reached 6 million people.

Nearly 10 million people in Illinois are eligible, while every year about 300 people in our state die waiting for a transplant, White’s office said.

Fortunately, Freeman’s health status now is good. He’s managing his diabetes, which he’s coped with for about 20 years, with what he calls the “difficult but necessary for me to be here” routine of blood-glucose monitoring and insulin.

Plus, he and Mara, his wife of 41 years, eat healthier.

“I learned to like lettuce,” Freeman said, grinning. “It’s hard to make that change for those of us at the top of the food chain.

“I like my steak, but I know I don’t have to eat the whole cow.”

Freeman made changes because he insists on being around as long as possible for his family—including three grown children and two grandsons, ages 8 and 10, who are “smart as whips.”

Big steps along the way give him hope.

  • He and Mara learned a lot at pre-transplant classes, about being organ recipient and donors.
  • Using cryoablation, interventional radiologist Dr. Scott Santeler stopped Freeman’s cancer early by freezing it.
  • And he focuses on educating himself and others about good health, organ donation and being positive.

“We just can’t get bogged down,” he said. “I don’t have the energy to exercise, but all this means I have time.”

He wants the same for others.

And he wants minority men and women to help one another by registering to become organ and tissue donors.

“We need to stop getting in the way of ourselves,” he said. “We need to not just think out of the box. We need to tear the lid off.

“I’m proof you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

Register today at LifeGoesOn.com, 1-800-210-2106 or by visiting your local Driver Services facility.