By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The heart inside Pam Morris’ chest was beating fast at church on Sunday as the WVON host waited to find out who donated the organ that saved her life.
She didn’t know that it came from a young man who was gunned down on his porch, in East Garfield Park. A year before and miles away from the church, Morris was laid up in a hospital room in desperate need of a heart. In record time, Morris would get it; her benefactor donated six of the young man’s organs.
For more than a year they waited to learn about the donor whose tragic death brought together strangers who were given a second chance at life.
The mystery ended Sunday at the Apostolic Church in Bronzeville, where Morris and other recipients met the family of Mario Cousins, Jr., a 20-year old who was killed in July 2016 when he was shot in the head while sitting on a porch in East Garfield Park. His mother, Emma O’Neal, fulfilled her son’s wishes by donating many of his organs to save people who needed them.
Morris, O’Neal and Cousins’ father Mario Cousins Sr., joined the other organ recipients on stage to kick off an emotional but powerful service at the Apostolic Faith Church. Near the end of the service the group, and officials from the Gift of Hope organization, held a special reception in another room to celebrate the life-giving contributions of a young man who never lived to see the lives he touched.
Mario’s mother donated his left and right lungs, left and right kidneys, liver and heart.
Morris, who received his heart, was there, instead of hosting her weekly gospel show on WVON. A cheerful and popular figure, her brush with death was chronicled in the Chicago Crusader last October.
After becoming ill in February 2016, doctors told Morris that she had a bad heart and needed a new one or she would die. Her condition deteriorated during the next months. On July 28, 2016, she was admitted to the University of Chicago Hospital, where she was placed on the waiting list for a new heart, but because her condition was severe and her situation urgent, Morris was moved to the top of the donor list as an A-list patient. After waiting for just 27 days, Morris received the new heart. Morris’ successful heart transplant occurred on August 25, 2016, one day after it arrived from Mario’s body.
Minorities make up 63 percent of those on the waiting list for organs. Some 33 percent of Blacks donate their organs after death.
Morris is fortunate in light of these statistics. At Sunday’s worship service, Morris sat next to O’Neal, thanking her for her son’s heart that saved Morris. The two remained together throughout the reception.
“I just wanted to tell his parents thank you. Thank you, my heart is wonderful. Look at me,” Morris said.
O’Neal at times cried tears of joy and pain as she stood with the recipients of her son’s organs. However, throughout the morning, O’Neal was encouraged at the sight of happy families and words of gratitude from Morris and other recipients.
“My son is everywhere,” she said. “He’s in this church.”
Kevin Cmunt, president and CEO for the Gift of Hope, said the organization was confident about bringing together O’Neal and her son’s recipients.
“This is a very emotional moment,” he said. “Not every family is ready to meet the recipient. When we bring families together, it’s always a cross your fingers moment.”
Last August, Operation Rainbow PUSH, the National Association of Black Journalists Chicago Chapter, and the National Newspaper Publishers Association, partnered with the Gift of Hope to address the need of increasing the number of minority organ and tissue donors in Illinois.