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Jonesboro brothers share passion for organ donation

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

This week, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners declared April 2008 as "Donate Life Month" in the county, in recognition of National Donate Life Month. The action was taken to promote the importance of organ donation around the country.

During Tuesday night's BOC meeting, an official proclamation was given to Joe Stott, a 63 year-old Jonesboro resident who got a new lease on life 12 years ago after a successful heart transplant.

Both Joe, and his twin brother, Jack Stott, are passionate about organ donations, but not just because they are related. The two share more in common than most twins.

Jack and Joe live only two miles down the street from each other, are both avid bowlers, and both retired from Lucent Technologies on the same day in October 2001. In the late 1990s, however, both brothers were diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a degenerative heart disease with no cure.

In the later stages of cardiomyopathy, the heart weakens to the point that it cannot pump enough blood to the body's vital organs.

"When you get that diagnosis, you basically get a new heart, or a pine box," Joe said.

Just two years after Joe got his new heart at Emory University Hospital in 1996, Jack got one at the same place in 1998. Since then, the two brothers have been major advocates and educators of organ donation.

Both brothers have traveled around the state, working as volunteers with the Georgia Transplant Foundation -- a support organization for the families of organ donors and organ recipients -- and LifeLink of Georgia -- a non-profit organization responsible for acquiring the organs of donors who have been officially declared brain dead.

The two brothers have dedicated their lives to debunking misconceptions about organ donation and convincing families faced with difficult decisions that their loved one's organs will be put to good use.

"I think that everyone should have the opportunity to understand what organ donation is all about," said Joe, who often wears a button bearing the face of his heart donor, Bryan Keith Williams. The 19 year-old, Albany, Ga., student was declared brain dead after being hit by a car in November 1996.

"A lot of people think that they roll you into a corner somewhere and let you die," said Joe. "The people at the hospital are working on you to save your life. When they can do nothing else for you, that is when they can call LifeLink.

"You have to die a certain way to become an organ donor ... you have to be brain dead," Joe added.

Jack, who as able to go back to work for another company after his heart transplant, tries to impress upon people the great difference a new organ makes in the life of a person who is suffering organ failure.

"The difference before and after the transplant is amazing," said Jack. "Before the transplant, its like someone is holding a hand in front of your face and you can't see," describing a dulled sense of sight and touch due to oxygen deprivation to his other organs.

"Afterward, it was like someone turned on all the lights and opened up all the windows," Jack continued. "Everything was amplified. I walked a 20-minute mile the day I got my heart transplant."

"Before the transplant, I couldn't peel an orange ... I was so weak," said Joe. "When I got my heart transplant, I could do anything I wanted to."

After receiving their new hearts, Joe and Jack also became members of Team Georgia for the U.S. Transplant Games, an Olympic event for transplant recipients. In 2005, Joe joined Team USA in the World Transplant Games in London, England and Ontario, Canada, where he took away the gold medal in singles bowling, and the silver in doubles bowling.

Rather than inscribing the final scores of his bowling victories on the medals, Joe insisted that a thank-you note be inscribed to Williams, whose family he had met several years earlier.

"If not for his sacrifice, I wouldn't be here ... that's the score," said Joe.