RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – It’s a question we’re asked when filling out paperwork at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Would you like to become an organ, eye and tissue donor?
As assistant managers at the DMV, Sondra Bloxom and Freida Booth-Pitts are very familiar with it.
“We ask that question every day,” said Bloxom.
But it suddenly took on a more significant role in their lives.
“Never in a million years did I think I would ask it, knowing that I would need it,” said Booth-Pitts. “Now it’s not just a question. It has a meaning.”
Booth-Pitts’ kidneys had failed and she found herself on the opposite end of that question.
More than 115,000 people are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. About 2,400 of them are in Virginia.
“It’s scary because the whole time in your mind you’re thinking, am I going to find a donor?” she said. “Is anybody going to step forward? How long’s it going to take? Does somebody have to die for me to get a kidney?”
It didn’t take long for her to get her answer.
Bloxom immediately volunteered to get tested. Turns out, she was a perfect match.
But there was one problem — Bloxom, a smoker, couldn’t pass the lung exam.
“I was devastated,” she said.
Over the next several months, she watched her coworkers’ health deteriorate. Booth-Pitts was hooked up to a dialysis machine for nine hours a day. She also had open-heart surgery, pneumonia and still no qualified donor.
What she didn’t know was that Bloxom had secretly kicked her cigarette habit in an effort to eventually pass the lung exam.
Eight months later, she got retested. This time, resulting in a clean bill of health to serve as a donor.
“I literally jumped up and down, clapped my hands and started crying,” said Bloxom. “The doctor said, well when would you like to do this? I said, can we do it today?”
A week later, the two had successful surgeries. That was June 2017.
“She saved my life,” said Booth-Pitts.
On Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam teamed up with Donate Life Virginia to recognize DMV employees for their help in getting people signed up for the organ donor registry.
In Virginia, there are about 4.29 million registered organ donors. The vast majority signed up at the DMV.
“DMV has supported organ, eye and tissue donor registration efforts for four decades and, as a result, nearly 60 percent of Virginians with a driver’s license or ID card have now designated their willingness to be an organ donor,” Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine said in a statement. “DMV employees should be extremely proud of what they’ve done for Virginians waiting for an organ donation.”
Bloxom and Booth-Pitts said they are happy to share their story as people fill out paperwork at the DMV. They want everyone to know one decision — and one check of a box — can both change and save a life.
“It could be you,” said Booth-Pitts. “Because I never thought it was going to be me. We’ve been asking this question for many years. And now when I ask it, I get choked up because you never know.”
April is National Donate Life Month.
“One person can save as many as eight lives through organ donation, restore sight to two people through cornea donation and improve as many as 100 lives through tissue donations,” said Lara Malbon, Donate Life Virginia Program Coordinator, in a statement.
Friday, April 13 is Donate Life’s Blue and Green Day and the public is encouraged to wear the organization’s signature colors in support of organ, eye and tissue transplantation.