GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A Vancleave mother is alive today thanks to a kidney transplant 16 years ago. But Rachel Payne faced some scary and challenging moments to get here.
"When I was 26, I hit full blown renal failure and had to go on dialysis and was told I needed to make final arrangements because time was running out very quickly unless a hero stepped up and donated," Rachel Payne remembered.
Luckily for Payne, that hero did step up, and the organ donor saved her life.
"His name was Jerry Hayes, a lawyer from Texas who was also a bull rider. And it's because of him, I'm alive 16 years later."
And not a day goes by that this now 41-year-old artist doesn't think about her donor. She even painted a picture in his honor.
"We have the bull, which is Jerry," Payne explained, pointing at her work of art, "And then the butterflies represent new life coming from him."
Now, Rachel works as a volunteer with the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency, MORA, to help spread the word about the importance of becoming an organ donor.
"I look for every opportunity to help educate the public, because there's such a lack of education that prevents people from registering."
Sonny Soileau, a registered nurse with MORA, says the need for organ donors is staggering.
"There are 122,000 people people waiting on the organ transplant list in the US," Soileau said. "Twenty-two people die every day waiting for an organ and every ten minutes someone else is added to the list."
Among those on that waiting list are 1,500 Mississippians. That's why MORA visited Memorial Hospital this week to try and get more people interested in signing up to become a donor.
"It's important to talk to your family about organ donation to find out how they feel about it," Soileau said.
Having that discussion, could end up saving a life, like Rachel's.
"I'm a mom, my son is in college now, I've met the love of my life, and none of this would have been possible without Jerry. None of it."
For more information on becoming an organ donor in Mississippi, visit https://itssupereasy.org/