Special Report: Organ Donation - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

Special Report: Organ Donation

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11,000 Texans are waiting and hoping for organ transplants. 18 of them die, every day, waiting for a donated organ that will never come. The demand is simply too big for the supply.

Texas used to be behind other states when it came to convincing people to be organ donors. But now the state's donor registry is growing faster than ever.

Jamie Johnson's experience with organ donation started more than a year ago.

"It was October the 4th of 2011," she said.

That's when her son Jacob was hit by a car on the shoulder of a dark road in Mineola. It made his favorite quote, "I'd rather walk through the darkness with God than alone in the light," seem more like a prophecy.

"I was just literally on my hands and knees on the floor with the trauma doctor and I was like 'there's got to be something you can do,'" Johnson said.

The irony was that Jacob had just gotten his learner's permit.

"I said 'Jacob, the question asks do you want to be an organ donor?'" Johnson said. "And he said 'don't I need my organs mom?' We kind of laughed and he said 'sure.'"

That one word, and her faith, helped Johnson through the toughest battle she's ever fought.

"I think that if I didn't have faith in my Lord I probably would have jumped off the tallest building by now," she said. "I'm pretty sure of it."

In the past, faith has stopped some people from donating organs. But what you may not know is that now every mainstream Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu denomination supports donating organs. A lot of those changes came as recently as the 1980s and the 1990s.

"We recover and transplant organs from people of all ages, of all variety of health conditions every day," Anne Willingham with the Southwest Transplant Alliance said.

Willingham said you don't have to be in perfect health to be an organ donor, and you don't have to worry that hospitals won't work as hard to save your life because your an organ donor.

"Only when all of their efforts have failed to save a life do they call us to become involved in the process," Willingham said.

You can also become a living donor. When we first met Cortney Reid last October she was just entering kidney failure.

"I was born with only one kidney and the kidney that I have was diseased from the start," Cortney said.

She's lucky because her sister Casey was a match--with a kidney to spare.

"Going into testing, I've always heard it would be hard on me," Casey said. "But it's not like that anymore."

The sisters let us follow their story right into the operating room.

"We've gotten a much better understanding of how the immune system works, how to prevent rejection," Dr. Steve Potter said.

Potter did the day-long surgery at East Texas Medical Center in Tyler. He said survival rates for both living donors and recipients have sky-rocketed in the last 30 years. Today, less than 3% of transplant patients have serious trouble.

"I won't be on dialysis," Cortney said of her impending operation. "I can go out and stay with friends. I can travel. You know, I can be a normal person again."

"Just to see that process unfold was a positive in a lot of negatives that were going on at that time for me," Johnson said.

A year and a half after he died, Jacob has saved four lives including David Reeder, who waited three years for a kidney.

"He sounded like just an incredible kid," Reeder said.

An incredible kid who got the chance to prove it earlier than anyone expected.

A lot of us choose to become organ donors when we renew our driver's license. But if you made the choice before September of 2009 a change in the law has invalidated your donation commitment. You can re-do it, if you want to, next time you're at the DMV.

You can also sign up to be an organ donor online.

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