The Thanksgiving holiday is drawing near. Some families and friends have not gathered since the coronavirus outbreak began a few years ago. During unofficial reunions, loved ones will have an opportunity to catch up on personal news and have important conversations, including discussion of who may be an organ and tissue donor when the end of life arrives.

Gregory Jones is a native of Upper Marlboro, Maryland who made Southwest Baltimore his home seven months ago. He knows the emotional pain of losing a mother. However, Ernestine “Jean” Jones left a legacy of compassion to help others. Gregory became an organ and tissue donor because Ernestine made a lasting impression on him. Although she passed away in 1997, Gregory recalls how open his mother was about how she felt about matters, including organ donation.

“She talked to us, my three sisters and myself, about if anything ever happened to her. She told us she was an organ donor. At that time, talking about being an organ donor was kind of new. I was young and in my mid-20s at the time,” Gregory said.

He added that he did not hear Black families talking about the organ donor topic when he was growing up. The conversation Gregory’s mother shared with her children did not completely make an impact until she passed away at 46-years old. Jean, as she was best known, was regarded as the “life of the party” and was someone who “everyone” wanted to be around.  Reality set in that Ernestine was gone when her family was faced with hospital protocol of medical professionals asking if they wanted to pull the life support plug. Ernestine was brain dead. The decision was made to take her off life support. Her records reflected that she was an organ donor. The family knew what their mother wanted.

“There wasn’t a lot of discussion to be had,” Gregory said.

But Gregory began to process his mother’s death on another level. Ernestine, who was from Upper Marlboro, Md., had been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Finding out about the health diagnosis was traumatic for Gregory. His vibrant mother worked as an administrative secretary and proofreader for the government. Ernestine had even helped her sister, Cecelia Jones-Bowlding, with proofreading her master’s thesis.

“I found out at the time that she had a massive stroke. She had not been taking her prescribed medication,” Gregory said. “She explained to me that it could kill her, and she had to change her diet. It didn’t seem to him like high blood pressure was a real dangerous condition at that time.”

Gregory was unaware that his mother was only treating her high blood pressure with holistic methods until she experienced a medical emergency. He recalls discovering this difficult detail at the hospital. Despite losing his mother, Gregory was able to extract something positive from tough times.

“I started to realize that even though my mother died, she had given life through organ donation,” Gregory said. “She was a person who looked out for everyone she could.”

Gregory followed his mother’s example by becoming an organ and tissue donor. He realized that her life was physically over, but someone in need would have more opportunity to live life longer, or improve his or her quality of life, because of her decision. Ernestine’s son discovered that a young child had received his mother’s corneas. As a result, he elected to be an organ and tissue donor while renewing his license for at least twenty years.

Gregory does not want to die before his time, but he realizes that death is inevitable.

“Hopefully, I can give someone else the opportunity to carry on. And who knows, maybe they’ll do something better in life to help others,” he said.

Gregory offered a final thought for people who are not organ and tissue donors.

“It’s the spiritual glory that you could be as close to your God as you could possibly be by giving life back to someone that’s on the edge of death with your organ. Hopefully, you are with God watching this happen,” Gregory said.

He feels that everyone who decides to be an organ and tissue donor will have achieved spiritual life after death through their donation. The Baltimorean mentioned that being a donor is one good thing that a person could do in their life by simply checking a box on a form to give the gift of life.

Please visit Donate Life Maryland via to learn more about organ and tissue donation.

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