Parents of 16-year-old basketball player to be honored

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Her son’s life came to an unexpected end after he collapsed while playing in a suburban basketball tournament last month. But Jermaine Cullum Jr.’s mother didn’t hesitate to make the decision to donate the 16-year-old’s organs.

Tarcia Patton watched as her son, a student at Christ the King Jesuit College Prep, fought to survive for three days on life support at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood.

On May 6th, she decided to remove him from life support when doctors told her Jermaine had lost all brain activity and could not breathe on his own.

Moments after making that decision she made another; Patton consented to donate her son’s organs.

“That was something he wanted to do,” she said.

In the months before his death Jermaine and his mom discussed the importance of organ donation, and he planned to become a donor when they went to get state ID cards. He wanted to follow the example of his mother and siblings.

“I’m an organ donor, and he wanted to do what I was doing. All of my children are organ donors,” said Patton, who has three other children.

Patton’s family is unusual. African-Americans are less likely to be organ donors, and they have to wait longer on transplant lists.

The demand for viable, life-saving organs and life-enhancing tissue is critical among African-Americans nationally, according to Gift of Hope, an organ and tissue donor network in Illinois.

Jack Lynch, community affairs director for Gift of Hope, said in a press release that one-third of those on waiting lists are African-American, yet blacks account for only 14 percent of donors.

“It is very important that as a community we talk about organ and tissue donation,” said Marion Shuck, manager of community affairs for Gift of Hope.

Shuck said parents need to know their children’s wishes, and children need to know their parent’s wishes when it comes to organ and tissue donation.

“The teenage years are definitely a good time to have this conversation,” Shuck said.

Her organization hopes there will be more of these discussions among families this summer, as they gather for reunions, picnics and other events.

Patton agrees that more families should be talking about organ donation and that more African-Americans need to become donors. For her, this issue hit close to home in more than one way.

“Jermaine’s aunt needs a kidney; I didn’t know that at the time Jermaine passed,” Patton said.

Patton said Jermaine’s aunt had not been added to the list to receive a kidney before Jermaine’s death. She said she thinks it’s because of the lack of education about organ donation and the belief some African-American’s have that there will be no suitable match for them.

“It took for my son to pass for her to take the initiative to get on the list to receive a kidney.”

She encourages parents to get the their children’s schools involved and invite organ donor organizations to give information sessions for students and parents.

Everyone should be an organ donor, Patton said.

“That’s our way of giving back when we leave this earth.”

Patton and Jermaine’s father, Jermaine Cullum Sr., will be honored Wednesday by Gift of Hope at an 11 a.m. Wednesday, June 25 open house at its new offices, 2600 S. Michigan Ave.

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