“There are a lot of misconceptions in the African American community about organ donation,” Keith Chalmers reflects. “People know very little about organ transplantation and I want to change that.”
Keith’s passion for organ donation awareness started with his own transplant journey about 7 years ago when he visited his family doctor for what he thought was just a bad cough. However, the cough didn’t get better. Over the course of two years, Keith was diagnosed with pneumonia, emphysema, and finally, COPD. Eventually, Keith’s journey led him to be placed on the organ waiting list.
Keith is very thankful to his pharmacist who first introduced him to the Howie’s House, where he stayed for four days in 2013 for testing at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He was listed for a lung transplant. Keith received his precious gift of life from a selfless donor in March of 2015. Now, he stays at the Howie’s House every 3 months for follow-up appointments.
“Without the Howie’s House, I wouldn’t have had a place to stay. I don’t think I could ever repay the folks there,” he says. “Everyone is so polite. If I didn’t live so far away, I’d be there volunteering every day. I’d help drive the van and clean up the house. Whatever I could do, I’d do.”
Keith is able, however, to volunteer every year during Gift of Life Donor Program’s Donor Dash.
Keith also spends a lot of time educating people about organ donation, specifically in minority neighborhoods. “Knowledge of the entire process is less common in these areas,” he says. “Not many African Americans know what organ donation really means or how it works. It isn’t advocated in the media enough.”
He keeps literature about organ donation in the back of his car, stands on line at the supermarket and asks people if they are donors, hangs banners outside his home, and even sets up a Q&A table outside his house in the summer to engage people walking by. Last Christmas, he helped 50 people register as donors.
He is extremely grateful for his precious gift. “Somebody saved my life,” he says. “Because of that, I’ll be out there, educating one person at a time.”