The “Giving Me Life: A Visual Journey of African-American Organ and Tissue Transplant Recipients” art exhibit has officially opened at the Alameda Health System (AHS)-Highland Care Pavilion Lobby. AHS has partnered with Donor Network West, an organ and tissue recovery organization, to bring “Giving Me Life” to AHS. The exhibit underscores the need for more registered donors within the African-American community through social documentary. Being that April is Donate Life Month, the exhibit will be on display at Highland until April 30.

Antwone Johnson and his sister

Antwone Johnson, the brother of donor Anthony Johnson, gave a very emotional testimony at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “I lost my brother about a year ago at Highland Hospital. He died unexpectedly, he started experiencing seizures and he had one that sent him into cardiac arrest. Other than those seizures he was in perfect health. When I was first approached about donating his organs I was not interested. But as I sat in the hospital while my brother was on life support, I reflected on the fact that he was the kindest person I ever met. He would give you his last dollar without knowing where his next one was coming from. I joke that I hope the cruelest, corrupt person received my brother’s heart because there is no way they can continue to be unkind with a piece of Tony in their body.”

In addition, Johnson shared that he is humbled to be able to save someone else’s life through his decision to donate his brother’s organs.

“I am very passionate about finding solutions that will help our patients live healthy lives. There are many people on the transplant waiting list and this exhibit is a great way to raise awareness about the need,” said Luis Fonseca, AHS chief operating officer and Donor Network West board member.

Damita Barbee and Sean Van Slyck, Donor Network West COO

Currently, African-Americans make up 5% of the 13 million people served by Donor Network West, however, they represent 10% of those waiting for organ transplants in the region. The exhibit is a visual testimonial of nine local African-American transplant recipients who have overcome incredible obstacles in their respective journeys toward health and wellness due to organ and tissue donation.

Damita Barbee, a double lung transplant recipient, and one of the people featured in the Giving Me Life Exhibit will be traveling to Italy this year, something she was not able to do five years ago. She was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, but now she is thriving due to her organ donation. In her spare time she shares her story with others, hoping to encourage as many people as possible to become registered donors.

“We are pleased to collaborate with Alameda Health System to bring the Giving Me Life exhibit to Highland Hospital in Oakland, which boasts a proud legacy of African-American culture, art and social justice. We deeply respect Alameda Health System’s commitment to promoting health equity and access for all patients, 30% of whom are African-American. Our hope is to spark new conversations, and inspire more African-Americans to register as organ donors,” said Janice Whaley, chief executive officer of Donor Network West.

Jain Thapa from Congresswoman Lee’s office, Delvecchio Finley, AHS CEO and Janice F. Whaley, Donor Network West CEO

About 50 people attended the event. Participants included Donor Network West Ambassadors, donor recipients and their families, AHS staff, community members and representatives from Congresswomen Barbara Lee and Assembly Member Rob Bonta’s office.

Nearly 1,400 people are waiting for an organ transplant in Alameda County. One organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people and a tissue donor can heal 75 others. If you are interested in signing up for the registry you can do so at the DMV or online