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Staff Spotlight: As a donation educator, Taneisha Carswell knows when to talk and when to listen

Taneisha Carswell received a kidney transplant from her cousin. Her young nephew later became a donor.

Gift of Life staffer’s kidney transplant gives her personal perspective

If Taneisha Carswell doesn’t convince someone to be an organ donor right away, no worries. She’ll keep trying. One skeptical man visited her information table at a community event several years in a row. Taneisha, a community outreach coordinator for Gift of Life MOTTEP, talked to him each time. Did he want to register as a donor?

“No, thanks.”

This year, there he was again.

“I’ve been waiting to see you,” he told her. “I want to sign up.”

“Something finally clicked for him,” Taneisha said. “You might not convince somebody the first or second time you talk to them. You have to build relationships.”

That was a good day. It reminded Taneisha why she does this work in the Communications Division at Gift of Life Michigan.

“This isn’t just a job or career for me,” she said. “It’s a passion. There’s no other job I could love this much, knowing that every day we’re saving lives through education, getting people to put that heart on their ID.”

Gift of Life staff promoted the All of Us education program at a state teachers' convention, and it was a hit!Taneisha is one of six people in the Public Education and Community Relations Department who spend their days in schools, hospitals, at events and more to educate and inspire Michiganders.

That’s crucial because more than 2,400 patients in Michigan are waiting for an organ transplant to save their lives.

Taneisha knows something about that.

She was diagnosed with a kidney disorder at age 8 and by age 21 both her kidneys had shut down. She endured dialysis three times a week for 18 months so her blood could be cleansed of toxins.

A donor’s gift

Then something special happened: Her cousin Krystal donated one of her kidneys to Taneisha as a living donor — a selfless act of love that had her family crying, celebrating, and hosting “kidney parties” and prayer circles.

“There aren’t enough ways to say thank you,” Taneisha said. “I’m grateful every day.”

As a bridge between Gift of Life and the community, Taneisha shares important facts about organ donation and so much more, said Remonia Chapman, director of Public Education and Community Relations.

“But she also listens to people, learning about all the little nuances out there affecting people’s perceptions,” Remonia said. “She’s very passionate, committed, creative and innovative. She goes out of her way to come up with new ideas to connect with young people.”

Roller skating parties. Backpack giveaways. Social media live streams.

“Taneisha’s experience being a transplant recipient gives her an extra compassionate edge, but she doesn’t lead with that,” Remonia said. “Instead, she draws from it. Her experience gives her compassion. It helps her give accurate information. It helps her connect.

“Then, when she shares her story, it’s the icing on the cake.”

But not too much icing.

“I don’t share my story much when I’m out in the community,” Taneisha said. “There are so many great stories. Mine isn’t always the right one to share.”

Her story helps others

Sometimes, it’s perfect. Young people waiting for a transplant are often scared, with lots of questions.

“That’s when my story comes into play,” she said. “I know what they’re going through. Parents see me, 15 years out from my transplant, and they want to see their kids 15 years out.

“I can give families hope that there are brighter days ahead.”

Sad days can be meaningful, too.

When Taneisha’s nephew Amari died at age 5 months, his parents agreed to donate his heart valves to help other babies live.

At that heartbreaking moment, Taneisha the outreach worker was just Aunt Taneisha.

“My nieces and nephews are my world,” she said. “In that moment, I didn’t see him as a donor. He was my nephew. But when I took a step back and broadened my picture, I’m so happy my sister decided he could be a donor.

“This mission is personal to me, but it’s not about me,” Taneisha said. “It’s much bigger than me.”

If you would like Gift of Life to present to your classroom or organization, contact [email protected].

“This isn’t just a job or career for me. It’s a passion.”

Read more in the LifeLINES newsletter

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