Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like anything we do is making a big difference. We ask of the things we make and the words we speak: Are they mere bread crumbs on the floor?
Yes, but what if other people are leaving bread crumbs, too? And what if this trail of bread crumbs leads others to something great? That’s what happened to Harold Mintz.
“It was a lot of little things that led me to it,” he says of a life-altering decision, one that saved someone’s life and led others to save lives, too. Mintz spoke about it in Savannah.
As part of this year’s MountainFilm Festival in Savannah, he talked to movie-goers and school children about his choice, in 2000, to donate one of his kidneys to a stranger.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t think about it, some small part, some big part,” he says. Because of his decision, a woman named Gannet Belay, has lived for the past 16 years.
“I know she’s alive and well and healthy, over there, with her family, spending this much time with her family,” he says. “Every day I think about it.”
Only about 1,800 people have donated kidneys “altruistically” (meaning they don’t know the recipient) since the practice became legal around 2000. Why would someone do that?
In most cases, people donate kidneys to family members. It’s relatively easy to arrange if your spouse, your child, your aunt or cousin needs it. Most people can live with just one.
But one day, Harold Mintz woke up and said to himself, “I don’t care who gets my kidney. Just save someone’s life.” How did he arrive at such a place in his mind?
To hear him tell the story, it was following a trail of bread crumbs:
- His father’s death, to cancer, something he couldn’t do anything about;
- Donating blood to strangers, a convenience at first, but later a passion;
- Consuming books and movies that featured organ donation as a theme;
- Learning that every day, 22 people die because they lack donated organs.
- A face-to-face meeting with a couple whose daughter died because they couldn’t find a donor match;
- And finally, a phone number on a screen: 1-800-GIVE-US-YOUR-KIDNEY.
(I don’t know if that’s the actually the phone number. It’s the name of his film. Go to his website, HaroldsKidney.com to find contacts for organ donation.)
But Mintz now talks everywhere about organ donation. His film, produced and directed by Samantha Smith and promoted by MountainFilm, provides a huge platform for him.
“Now, when I speak, I’m a bread crumb,” he says. “I don’t have to know everybody’s following it. I know they’re not. But somebody’s hearing it and it’s having an effect.”
People contact him saying that, because they heard his story, they took action. They don’t necessarily say they donated a kidney, as he did, with a surgery (although about 20 have).
But they signed up to be an organ donor when they die. About 45 percent of American adults are registered organ donors. We can do better than that!
But best of all, as Mintz says, to do good today, “You don’t have to give body parts.”
“You can give time and attention,” he says. “You can give a hello. You can give a smile to somebody. And if it’s the right situation, you can change things. It’s beautiful.”
Harold Mintz saved somebody’s life.
And no, this podcast, this radio story, this little bit of what I do in the waking hours of my limited life, I have no illusions about its effects in the wider world, population 7.5 billion.
But it’s a bread crumb that I leave. May it lead you to something good.
For more information about the film or organ donation, visit 1-800-GIVE-US-YOUR-KIDNEY.