Edward Pratt: An organ donor’s unlikely tale _lowres

Photo provided by SUE POTTS -- Muriel Haysbert and Ed Pratt

My friend Muriel Haysbert has a new kidney that has given her a new lease on life.

I wanted to interview her and the donor about how the process happened. Colette Greggs, the donor, initially refused.

I told Greggs that her decision to be a donor might inspire other African-Americans to participate. According to some studies, African-Americans, for a number of reasons, are less likely to be organ donors. She grudgingly agreed.

I was prepared for a weepy story of sacrifice and tough decision-making by the donor. “This is not going to be what you think,” Greggs warned.

Indeed, it was not.

Greggs is the daughter of the late, legendary Southern University band director Isaac Greggs, the longtime leader of the university’s world-renowned Human Jukebox.

Colette Greggs is not related to Haysbert and, according to Greggs, “We’re not close friends.” In fact, she said with a smile, “I really don’t like her (Haysbert) that much.”

Both Haysbert, 60, and Greggs, 56, attended Southern University Laboratory School. Haysbert was a member of the SU band’s Dancing Dolls when Isaac Greggs was band director. Even so, there was no great bond between Colette Greggs, now an attorney, and Haysbert.

Nearly five years ago, Haysbert learned she had failing kidneys, which caused her to wind up on dialysis. She had to quit her job as a school principal in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Soon she would need a kidney. She could not find a match.

Last fall, while tailgating before a Southern football game, Haysbert was having a conversation with a friend who asked about her situation. “I still need a kidney,” she said.

Greggs just happened to be within earshot and responded. “I just said ‘OK, I’ll do it,’ ” Greggs said. That was it. No discussion. “When I make a decision, that’s what I will do,” she said.

As Haysbert said, “There was no lightning strike. That was it. … I just thought, ‘Colette is going to do this for me.’ ”

They admitted they were not close friends.

“I told her to send me the information I would need to do the donation,” Greggs said. And that was it. Greggs continued socializing at the tailgate gathering.

Soon, family members questioned her decision. What if one of her two sons needed a kidney? What if something went wrong?

“I heard it all, but I had made up my mind. My father lived with one kidney, so I knew I could do it. … My mind was made up,” Greggs said.

There were other problems. On at least two occasions, the women were on their way to surgery, only to be told that the transfer was canceled.

The second cancellation was near the time of the operation. “It sucked,” Haysbert said.

It also could have complicated matters, because hospital personnel and others were telling Greggs she could walk away from the operation at any point, no questions asked.

“I was not going to change my mind,” she said.

It would have been normal for Haysbert to be concerned that the delays could lead Greggs to change her mind. “I just kept praying that we would do it,” Haysbert said.

On April 6, the operation finally happened, and everything went well. During the early weeks of recovery, Haysbert sent text messages to Greggs thanking her and providing updates on her health.

Greggs rarely answered.

“I thought, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave me the hell alone?’ I told her she needed to focus on taking care of (herself),” Greggs said. “I told her, ‘That’s not my kidney; that’s your kidney.’ ”

Greggs already felt good about what she had done. “Knowing that you gave something to someone that will prolong their life, that’s a feeling I can’t describe.”

Haysbert said her quality of life has been lifted dramatically since the donation. “I am so grateful. … Who would have thought 10 years ago my life would be like this? I am going to be the best custodian of this kidney that I can.”

By the way, Greggs says she has volunteered to be a bone marrow donor, too.

She was right; this was not the story I expected.

Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is epratt1972@yahoo.com.