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'It has given me life'
Local recipient promotes organ donation

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

LyCynthia Baskin and her husband, Clayton County Tax Commissioner Terry Baskin, were like many other Atlanta-area couples in the early 1990s. They met at church, fell in love, and built a home in Jonesboro where they started a family.

From the age of 9, however, LyCynthia Baskin suffered from Type 1 diabetes, a condition which she managed into adulthood, but would eventually cause life-threatening complications.

"It's very difficult to deal with diabetes when you're a child," she said. "Because I wanted to participate with my classmates, I wouldn't take the insulin shots and ate what they ate, which eventually led to devastating consequences."

Around 1996, just a few years into her marriage, doctors told LyCynthia Baskin that she had kidney disease. Eventually, she began having problems with her vision.

"She didn't show any signs, but I knew that she was a diabetic," Terry Baskin said. "It happened all of a sudden. We were heading out of town and celebrating our third or fourth anniversary. She had to have her eyes checked and the doctor didn't want to let us leave the office."

By 1998, LyCynthia Baskin was declared legally blind. By 2000, her kidneys and pancreas began to fail and in 2006, she was put on dialysis treatment.

"It was very hard, not only on my wife and I, but also my daughter," Terry Baskin said. "My wife was on dialysis for nine months and after seeing her on the machine, it was like the life was sucked out of her. We didn't know what was going to happen."

On Jan. 22, 2007, after months of suffering through at-home and in-clinic dialysis treatment with no signs of improvement, LyCynthia Baskin received a life-saving double transplant of a kidney and a pancreas. The transplant eliminated her diabetes and through a series of surgeries, she has regained limited vision.

While she still battles with some complications, the transplant changed her life completely, she said.

"While I still have some of the side effects ... my quality of life has greatly improved," LyCynthia Baskin said. "I don't have to go to dialysis treatment anymore. I can pretty much eat what I want and that is what I'm getting used to. When we got to the point that my doctor suggested the double transplant, it was the only way to extend my life. It has given me life."

Despite her medical issues, LyCynthia Baskin has stayed busy. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, she won a series of beauty pageants running on platforms of diabetes and organ-donation awareness. Her titles include Mrs. Georgia International 1998 and first runner-up in the 2000 Georgia's Beauty of America Pageant.

As a representative of the American Diabetes Association and LifeLink of Georgia, which advocates organ donation, LyCynthia Baskin has spoken at churches, schools, county functions, and at the Georgia state Capitol to educate people about diabetes and organ donation. In 2008, the Center for Black Women's Wellness awarded her the Defeating the Odds Award.

Four months ago, LyCynthia Baskin's ordeal also inspired her at-home business, Baskin's Baskets, through which she designs gift baskets for people with limited diets due to diabetes, cancer, transplants, pregnancy, and other medical conditions.

"I knew very little about organ donation," before receiving a transplant, said LyCynthia Baskin. "Now my father, my sister, my immediate family are all organ donors. Anytime I talk to [people], I ask them to consider [becoming an organ donor] because so many lives can be healed and restored."

Terry Baskin said the ordeal his family has gone through has also changed his outlook on organ donation.

"I thought that if I left this earth, I wanted to leave whole," he said. "Since my wife's ordeal, it has changed my whole way of thinking. I know now that it is much better to give ... it is a blessing to bless somebody else with life."