Diamondhead Woman's Life Depends On An Organ Transplant

Madonna Walter wanted hardwood flooring in her master bedroom. So Tom Stanton spent Wednesday on floor detail in Walter's Diamondhead home.

"We are doing it to spend some time with her, because it might be the last few days that she has," she says.

Stanton's sister has a liver disease. While he works on her floors, she's in a New Orleans hospital, surrounded by other family members. They're all praying that she can get a liver transplant. Otherwise, the former Hancock High School math teacher may die.

A tear appears in Stanton's eye when he says, "It's hard to say goodbye. It's hard to imagine that someone's life that affects yours, and all the other people around her is going to end."

What's been hammered home to family members in recent weeks is one of the tragic repercussions of Katrina. They've been told Madonna may never come off the transplant waiting list, in part because organ donations in Mississippi and Louisiana have dropped 14% since the storm.

"Besides all of the negative things that came out of Katrina, this is one that we can fight as a community," Stanton says.

He thinks people can "get together and pay attention to the organ donor awareness program, and be an organ donor. It not only affects the donor recipient, but everyone in their life."

Madonna Walter is a wife, and a mother of two. On the entryway into her family's office are dozens of cards and get well wishes.

Stanton called his 47 year old sister "a pistol. She's a fighter."

Besides Stanton, she has three other brothers and four other sisters. They're all wearing green "give the gift of life" bracelets. One of the sisters in Chicago has contacted advertising agencies. As a result of her work, billboards will soon go up in Jackson, urging families to think about organ donations.

"It's frustrating that there are only a few things you can do like put on the awareness program, and pray for her," says Stanton.

He realizes his sister may never see the floor he's putting in her Diamondhead bedroom, and that's "hard". He also knows his family's crusade to push for more organ donations may not save Madonna. But it could save someone else.

"And that's what she would want," says Stanton.

Kevin Stump represents the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency. He said the "emotional toll on families" since the hurricane has made many of them shy away from organ donation decisions. Before the storm, 65% of the people contacted by his agency agreed to make an organ donation. That percentage dropped to 51% after the storm.

"They've been through enough," says Stump, "and don't want to help others right now."

Stump said state lawmakers will consider a bill in January that sets up an organ donor registry. That way, if you want your organs used after you die, your wish will be on file.

For more information on the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency or to learn how you can donate click here.