Ieesha Johnson can relate to organ, eye and tissue donation from a first-hand perspective. In 2013, she fell during a competitive race and broke her hand. According to information provided on Infinite Legacy’s website, the runner who tumbled down a hill headed to an emergency room for evaluation. After an X-ray was taken, the doctor informed her that a potentially cancerous tumor growing in her hand had caused the bone to crack when she fell. The growth needed to be removed. Although it turned out to be benign, Johnson needed donated tissue to heal her hand.
“The doctor said that the hole in the hand was so big. They would have to take bone out of my thigh, or I could get donor bone,” Johnson said.
She opted to pursue the donor bone route. The bone transplant from a tissue donor was successful.
“So, I’ve been a tissue recipient for almost 10 years now,” Johnson said.
Ironically, Johnson had been an organ donor since 2006. Her personal experience underscored the importance of signing up to become a registered organ donor.
Since graduating college, Johnson has worked in the healthcare field. She ultimately made a career of raising awareness about transplant donations. In 2001, Johnson visited an organ donor family event where donor family members were honoring their loved ones.
“It was just an overwhelming, emotional event. I was just filled with so much gratitude that people actually thought of others in their time of tragedy. So, I walked away and signed up to be an organ donor.”
In 2007, Johnson began working in hospital services to ensure that nurses and doctors stayed educated about organ donation within their hospital systems. Johnson later began working in community outreach and public education.
“In 2016, I was promoted to manager and made that shift of doing a lot of outreach in our minority communities where the organ donation need is very high. Blacks are the highest on the waitlist for a kidney, but we’re often the ones that say no to organ donation, due to the myths and misconceptions we may have heard over the years, so that’s where my passion is working in a grassroots campaign,” Johnson said.
She currently serves as the director of community outreach at Infinite Legacy. The nonprofit organ procurement organization’s corporate office is in Baltimore, Maryland and the regional office is located in Falls Church, Virginia. It is formerly known as the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland. Infinite Legacy merged with a sister organization called Washington Regional Transplant Community in 2022. The organ procurement organization had served Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C. and the Maryland suburbs.
“We are passionate about giving life and restoring hope while honoring the legacy and generosity of donors and providing care to their families,” Johnson said, explaining more about Infinite Legacy’s mission. “We currently serve Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the entire state of Maryland.”
Johnson added that the merger provides increased opportunities to serve more donor families and improve transplant services. Her team handles the public education and outreach in the service areas. They work closely with high schools, public-facing organizations and volunteers.
“Our job is to help people understand the importance of organ, eye and tissue donation,” Johnson added.
Johnson is a member of Donate Life America’s advisory council. Donate Life America is a national nonprofit that increases donated organ, eye and tissue donations. Additionally, Johnson serves as a liaison to the Association for Multicultural Affairs in Transplantation. She is the president-elect who oversees the multicultural public education of 56 organ procurement organizations.
Infinite Legacy works closely with Donate Life Maryland (DLM) since DLM manages the state’s organ, eye and tissue registry. Infinite Legacy also works very closely with transplant centers and donor hospitals.
“Donations can’t happen without the three of us, so I like to call it a bridge. Infinite Legacy is in the middle, and then you have our donor families that are giving life, and then our transplant centers hold those patients to get a transplant,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s initial call to action is simple. She wants more people to read information and stories about organ donation by visiting www.infinitelegacy.org. Johnson also recommends telling loved ones about end-of-life decisions.
“Have these conversations in your community, your homes and anywhere you congregate. That is the most important message that I want to send,” Johnson said. “Also, too, it takes less than a minute to register to be an organ donor.”
Visit www.infinitelegacy.org/get-involved/register-to-be-a-donor or www.donatelifemaryland.org to register.
You may contact Infinite Legacy to request someone to visit a local school, organization or business to talk to employees or students about organ, eye and tissue donation.