TUPELO • Charles Glenn is healthy, fit, and busy at 53 years old. But he probably wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for organ donors.
The Chesterville resident and owner of Swift and Easy Detail in Tupelo has been the recipient of two kidney transplants.
Now, as a volunteer spokesman for the Kidney Foundation and the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency (MORA), he said he wants to encourage others to become organ donors.
“I thank God every day that two different people chose to be organ donors,” he said. “They not only saved my life, but other people’s lives too. When you leave this earth, why not give someone here a second chance?”
Glenn, who also serves as associate pastor at Gateway Missionary Baptist Church in Verona, said some people are reluctant to become organ donors for religious reasons.
“Donating organs has no effect on what happens to you after you die,” he said. “What’s on earth is not needed in heaven. We are spiritual beings. That’s why at funerals we’re often reminded that we’re ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ When we go to our heavenly home, we go in the spirit.”
Glenn said his own health troubles started when he was still a young man.
“It was a shock,” he said. “I was in my 20s. I was running about 10 miles a day when I went to see the doctor in ‘94. I didn’t have weight issues, but my blood pressure had gone way up. Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two leading causes of kidney failure.”
After his diagnosis, Glenn said he spent four difficult years on dialysis before his first transplant in 1998.
“Dialysis is a heartbreaking situation,” he said. “You spend four hours a day, three days a week with a needle in your arm. You wonder, ‘Why me?’ There were times I was even suicidal, but God had work for me.”
Glenn now does part of that “work” at the Dialysis Center in Tupelo, where he regularly visits with patients. He said his own experience gives him greater compassion for those going through the process.
“I know what their mindset is because I’ve been through it,” he said. “I encourage them to hold on even when it feels hopeless. I remind them that God loves them and God is closer than they know.”
Glenn said his first transplant was from a middle-aged male donor and lasted 13 years. He said his second transplant, five years ago, was from a much younger donor.
“I was told the kidneys I have now should last a very long time,” he said. “They are from a young man who was in his teens when he unfortunately lost his life in a car accident.”
In its 2019 awards ceremony in July, MORA recognized Glenn as its chaplain of the year for his work at the Dialysis Center and for his advocacy for organ donation. He said he wants those in the African-American community in particular to understand the importance of organ donation.
“In Mississippi there are 1,400 people waiting on an organ transplant,” he said. “Of those 1,400, 70 percent are African American, but only 20 percent of African Americans are organ donors.”
Along with other African-American organ transplant recipients in Mississippi, Glenn was featured in “Step Up, Have the Conversation” – a short video produced by MORA.
Glenn said the video’s purpose is to raise awareness and challenge people to have a conversation that, while uncomfortable, can be life-giving.
“A lot of African Americans in Mississippi have heard stories about being organ donors,” he said. “There is a lot of fear and misunderstanding around the issue. We need to remove the fear.”
Glenn said people of all races, ages and health levels can become organ donors.
“A lot of people don’t understand this,” he said. “But anyone can be a donor. You’re never too old, and even if you’re not in the best physical health, there are still lots of things that can be used.”
Glenn said becoming an organ donor is a simple process.
“You can go to the DMV and ask to have the organ donor symbol put on your license,” he said. “Or you can come to our office in Tupelo and register. You can even do it online, at msora.org/register/.”
Glenn said as a person of faith, becoming an organ donor is a way to practice generosity even after your natural life is over.
“God only blesses us so we can be a blessing to others,” he said. “I’ve been blessed, and I want to be a blessing when I’m gone.”