As Sentara’s kidney transplant program celebrates its 50th anniversary, Del. Scott and his mentor their success story – The Virginian-Pilot

The first thing Don Scott noticed was that Johnny Morrison was neglecting his flowers.

During the years they had lived side by side in Portsmouth, Scott, a State MP, had always admired Morrison’s garden. Morrison, a district judge, would spend hours tending to the shrubbery and flowers every weekend. hibiscus are his favorite; He loves that they grow back every year.

“I don’t play golf,” Morrison said. “That was my therapy.”

“You’ll never meet a man who loves flowers more than Judge Morrison,” Scott said. “As soon as I stopped seeing him out there, I knew something was up.”

On a summer morning in 2021, Scott knocked on his door.

Little did Scott know that Morrison had kidney disease, that he was weeks away from dialysis and that his wife Cynthia, his two daughters and even his nieces were not suitable for a kidney transplant.

Portsmouth clerk Cynthia Morrison recalled Scott’s immediate reaction.

“We have this,” Scott said.

Scott went home to ask his wife Mellanda what she thought of him giving him a kidney.

And he did. Morrison received Scott’s kidney in September 2021 at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. The hospital’s kidney transplant program, which turns 50 this month, is the only one of its kind east of Interstate 95.

“They’re sick and complicated patients, and they need someone who really takes some time to care for them,” said Dr. Harland Rust, nephrologist and medical director of the hospital’s kidney transplant program, on patients with kidney failure. “Transplants are especially rewarding because we have people who are stuck on dialysis, and if they get a transplant, in many ways they get their lives back.”

According to an initial health screening that Scott passed, the first indicator of whether a person’s kidney might “match” is their blood type. Morrison has type O blood, which puts him at a disadvantage as type O and B kidneys are harder to come by. His family history of kidney disease means blood relatives are more likely to be left out of the match process.

Finding a donor is common in the black community, Rust said. Of the 95 kidneys transplanted from living and deceased donors at SNGH last year, 59% of the recipients were Black. However, 68% of patients on Sentara’s waiting list are Black, compared to 32% of the national average. Only 7.4% of Sentara’s living kidney donors were black.

Scott and Morrison are both black men. But Scott, who wasn’t sure of his blood type before beginning the donation process, was nonetheless surprised to discover that he had type O blood, just like Morrison. Other markers also lined up: Scott was a match.

Roland French, the hospital’s longtime transplant coordinator, recalls that Scott asked many of the right questions, such as: B. how long the recovery process would take (long) and what healthy habits he could adopt to stay healthy after the procedure.

By agreeing to a September 2021 transplant date, Scott knew he was risking losing an election. But with Morrison just weeks away from dialysis, his choice was clear.

“The worst thing that’s ever going to happen to me isn’t losing an election,” Scott said. “I truly believed it was God’s will and I would do His will. Period.”

Also, without Morrison, Scott might not have run for the House of Delegates at all.

In 2014, Morrison Scott, who despite graduating from Louisiana State University Law School in 1994 after a seven-year detour following an arrest for a drug-related crime in his senior year of law school, had pursued a career in business encouraged the Virginia successfully pass the bar exam. In 2019, Morrison held the Bible in hand as Scott took the oath of office in the House of Delegates.

Scott and Morrison came from very similar backgrounds, growing up in large single mother families and both overcoming poverty. For the Morrisons, whose adult daughters had already moved out, the Scotts were like a second family.

“He looked up to me as a mentor and I looked up to him as a son,” Morrison said.

The day of the surgery was a blur for Scott. After a television interview outside of the hospital, Scott was taken to the hospital where all of his clothes were placed in a large white paper bag. He and Mellanda said a prayer before staff inserted IVs.

Cynthia and her daughters were glued to the television screen showing the status of the patients for hours, even after the staff locked the waiting room doors.

“It was the longest surgery I’ve ever experienced,” she said.

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While Morrison stayed in the hospital a few extra days, the invasive nature of the kidney removal surgery, which requires organs to be moved, kept Scott incapacitated for weeks. In November, Scott finally made it out of the house for the election.

“I went out on election day and I was in a little bit of pain going out, but I was like, ‘Okay, I can do this,'” Scott said. “It was the first time I’ve been properly outside in a while.”

Scott and Morrison both say the public nature of the transplant prompted members of the community to share their own experiences. Morrison, who didn’t even realize anything was wrong with him until his wife pointed out his slow movement and fading disposition, said he hopes to raise community awareness about kidney disease, which Rust says can be largely asymptomatic.

“The black community needs a lot of education about kidney disease because it’s a silent killer, just like high blood pressure, and we in the community aren’t aware of it,” Morrison said. “Go to the doctor. You don’t know what your kidneys are doing.”

After months of recovery, Morrison is back on the bench. Fueled by plenty of bacon Cynthia smuggled into the Scott home, Scott won re-election and was elected minority leader in the House of Delegates on June 1.

“The difference between how Johnny looks now and how he looked then is like night and day,” Scott said. “Now watching his energy and watching his color and the way he carries himself – I mean, he couldn’t even walk well before. It is wonderful.”

Suzannah Claire Perry, suzannah.perry@virginiamedia.com

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