Published on Monday, April 16, 2018
Media Contact: Ruth Cummins
Abram Jones was at a Vicksburg casino, enjoying dinner with his wife, when his pager went off.
It was his cardiologist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “I didn’t recognize the number. I said I’d call them later,” said Jones, then a law enforcement dispatcher in need of a heart transplant after being diagnosed with heart failure the year before.
But his wife wouldn’t let him wait. “It was Dr. (Charles) Moore,” Jones remembered. “He said, ‘I’ve got your heart, and you need to come on in.’”
“I said, ‘Can I finish eating my lemon pie?’”
On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, that same night in 1999, Lywanda White was devastated. Her dad, Thomas Griffin, a single father who’d adopted then-22-year-old Lywanda when she was 13, had suffered a brain hemorrhage. At such a young age, White made the decision to follow her father’s wishes and donate his organs after he was pronounced brain dead.
The heart, liver and kidneys of the Gulfport car salesman and Navy veteran gave life to others, including Jones.
It would be almost 19 years before White discovered not just who received her father’s heart, but if it was still ticking. It would be almost 19 years before Jones could confirm what he’d suspected: that his heart didn’t come from a 24-year-old auto accident victim on the Coast as he’d been told originally.
Jones, a longtime Jackson resident, had taken it upon himself to research the auto accident in hopes of pinpointing his donor. “I couldn’t find anywhere in the state of Mississippi where that had happened at that time,” Jones said.
In November 2017, Jones got his answers. “One morning I woke up and thought, I’ll ask MORA if they know. I said I’d love to meet my donor family. Why not?”
He said Annie Lucious, after-care supervisor in the family services division of the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency, had to dig through paper files to find information on Jones’ donor. MORA called White.
White, 42, a family health services specialist at Early Head Start in Harrison County, said an enthusiastic yes. She and Jones met up Nov. 25, 2017, at MORA’s Flowood office.
On Friday, Jones recalled his experience during the Legacy Lap, an annual gathering of organ transplant recipients and donor families held on the front lawn of UMMC. Those who attended enjoyed a picnic lunch and walked through the University Hospital lobby to view photographs of dozens of organ donors, both young and old.
Sponsored by MORA, UMMC, University Transplant and the UMMC Transplant Guild, the event recognizes the generosity of families whose loved ones died, yet in their grief, they agreed to donate one or more of their family member’s organs.
White was supposed to speak at the Legacy Lap, but couldn’t make it because of scheduling conflicts. She would have enjoyed another reunion, White said.
Before she finally met Jones, White said, “all I knew was that a man got my father’s heart, and he was 49. My dad died at 49. They did say that sometimes, family reaches out, and sometimes they don’t. I always thought about this man: Did he have a family? Could my father’s heart still be beating?”
She was ecstatic to find out Jones was still living. “A piece of him is still here,” she said of her father. “The emotional part didn’t come out until I actually saw (Jones) and heard my father’s heartbeat. I saw my father. His presence was there.”
“I try not to be sentimental,” said Jones, who retired as a dispatcher with the Jackson Police Department, but upon getting tired of being retired, went to work as a school bus monitor, then full time in 2013 as a Hinds County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher.
“I told my wife, ‘I’m not going to cry, and if I do, I owe you a steak dinner.’ I owed her a steak dinner,” Jones said. “She’s (White) crying. I’m crying. Mrs. Lucious brought out a stethoscope, and Lywanda listened to her daddy’s heart. We were there for about four hours. It was an emotional time.”
It’s fairly unusual for an organ recipient and donor family members to meet after almost two decades, said Carrie Deese, MORA’s director of family services. “It takes time and the right circumstances for someone to reach out and have that meeting,” she said.
White “wanted to recognize her father’s donor,” Deese said. “They had thought of each other very often, and were hopeful one day to meet. They were really grateful to have that opportunity, even though it had been so long.”
Jones still sees Moore, a professor in UMMC’s Division of Cardiology. “Don’t want nobody else,” Jones said.
Jones and White have kept up, exchanging pictures and phone calls. “He’s full of life. That’s how my father was,” White said of Jones. “I like that he is such a family man.”
He and Griffin share at least one trait, Jones discovered.
“Prior to the transplant, I wasn’t a coffee drinker,” he said. “But right after the transplant, I had a sudden taste for coffee. I didn’t know why.
“I asked, ‘Did he (Griffin) drink coffee?’ Lywanda said that her dad did drink coffee.”
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