Needed: People who are all heart for donations

Giving with all your heart. Taken literally or figuratively, everyone who has a heart can do something.

Nearly 3,000 Georgians are on the waiting list for an organ transplant. Fifty-six of them are awaiting a heart. Shannon Leach is one.

Leach, a graduate of Shiloh High School, was born with a congenital heart disease. At first, doctors said he wouldn't live long with the multiple defects in his heart, but with two heart surgeries and the wonders of modern medicine, Leach has led a relatively normal life for 28 years. He even played varsity baseball for Shiloh.

Unfortunately, Leach's heart is growing weaker. He has been in Emory University Hospital four times already this year for heart failure. Because more surgery is not an option, his future depends on a heart transplant. Having lost his job due to the bad economy, he needs help raising money for the anti-rejection medicine he'll have to take for the rest of his life after a transplant. This medicine typically costs from $20,000 to $30,000 per year. Even with insurance, co-pays can be unaffordable.

Here's where Georgia Transplant Foundation comes in. GTF, founded in 1992 by Tommy Smith, a kidney transplant recipient, focuses on providing both financial and educational assistance during a time that is often overwhelming for those undergoing or awaiting a transplant. The organization, avidly supported by Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves, will match what any transplant patient raises for one year up to $10,000. They also provide workshops with fundraising ideas for families and friends.

For example, Leach's cousin is organizing a neighborhood garage sale on May 2, with most proceeds going toward Leach's GTF fund. Later in the summer, the same cousin will be hosting a family reunion for which neighbors have volunteered to house family members so they can donate what they would otherwise spend on lodging to Shannon's cause.

Other events he is considering include a golf tournament, a poker tournament and a spaghetti dinner. He has also designed black and blue silicone bracelets inscribed with "All Heart," which are ready for purchase.

Just spreading the word can do wonders. GTF suggests that supporters pass out business cards or send out e-mail chains to increase awareness of how we can help those awaiting transplants. And we must not forget the power of prayer, something we can all put our hearts into.

If you'd like to make a heartfelt contribution to Leach's GTF fund or at least spread the word about his need for a transplant. his Web page is www.gatransplant.org/Client/sleach. If you'd like to make the whole-hearted commitment to be an organ donor, you can register when you get your driver's license or go to www.lifelinkfound.org/donorcard.cfm. For more information on GTF, the Web site is www.gatransplant.org.

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.