jasmine-maddox_web.jpgJust looking at Jasmine Maddox, you would never guess the pain she endures daily. With a vibrant personality and brains to match, Maddox, 18, fights not only to live a normal life, but most importantly, to stay alive.

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Thirteen years ago, Maddox was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, a non-contagious, life-threatening condition that hinders the function of the liver, ultimately destroying it. For the past year, Maddox has been desperately waiting for a much-needed liver transplant.

It takes numerous medications and frequent hospital stays to prevent complications such as internal bleeding, but Maddox has learned to deal with the pain stemming from her enlarged spleen. She refuses to let her medical condition limit her aspirations of becoming a police detective.

She still finds time to participate in real-life crime re-enactments as a North Miami Beach Police Explorer.

Maddox was eager to finish high school and pursue her dream. Despite her frequent hospitalizations, which caused her schoolwork to pile up, Maddox accelerated in her studies and graduated from high school at age 16. She is currently a sophomore at Brown Mackie College in Miami, pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice.

On Wednesday, April 15, Maddox, along with two-time heart transplant recipient and professional golfer Erik Compton, 29, and 4-year-old Zuyani Bernal -who needs liver and kidney replacements – were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They were allowed to see the breathtaking aerial view of Pompano Beach from a Goodyear blimp.

The blimp took off from Pompano Beach Air Park.

But Maddox was less concerned about the breathtaking blimp ride, and more worried about getting a liver transplant.

"I miss days out of school because I'm back and forth in and out of the hospital, back and forth to the doctor,'' she said. "And I just feel like if I get that liver, then I'll be stable, and won't have to worry about missing out on my work that's going to better my life.''

For the second consecutive year, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company collaborated with the non-profit Transplant Foundation to raise public awareness of the importance of organ donation, and to promote the Florida specialty license plate: "Donate Life. Pass it On."

The Transplant Foundation serves as a liaison for transplant patients at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. The non-profit organization's mission is to provide patients and their families with financial assistance to cover needs such as transportation and medication, as well as temporary housing. It also serves to educate the public about transplants and to fund medical research.

Since 1987, the foundation has raised more than $5 million through fundraisers such as golf tournaments and walkathons, and has impacted the lives of roughly 20,000 patients and their families, according to Eli Compton, mother of Erik and the executive director of Transplant Foundation.

Sara Waldman, spokeswoman for Goodyear, said April is designated as "Donate Life Month."

Waldman said Goodyear only offers public rides to charities such as Transplant Foundation, which "has a great cause." She also said Goodyear has pledged to extend its "Flight for Life" campaign efforts by displaying a message that urges organ donation throughout the month of April.

The move may help people like Maddox. With a new liver, she said, she hopes to discontinue her life-long medications and realize her dream of playing contact sports and solving crimes.

"I'm unable to eat certain foods because it can affect me in many different ways,'' she added.

Her mother, Cassandra Bell, agreed.

"My hopes for Jasmine is that she overcomes this obstacle and for her to pursue her career and live a normal life like we do," Bell told the South Florida Times.

Losing a loved one, especially a child, is perhaps the worst thing that could happen. With no easy answers for why it happened to their child or family, many are left traumatized with grief; others choose to give someone else a second chance at life.

"It's such a beautiful gift. One person can save over 50 lives. If something should happen to you and you are brain dead, it's legacy that you are leaving to people who will live on," Eli Compton said.

More than 100,000 people in the United States currently need life-saving organ transplants, with roughly one-third being African Americans, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN).

Maddox is one of 1, 235 African Americans living in Florida who are awaiting this most precious gift.

"It is so important that the general public consider becoming organ donors and sign donor cards, and – most importantly – let their families know, as they will make the final decision," Eli Compton told the South Florida Times.

But with heart, kidney and liver diseases more prevalent in ethnic groups and a critical shortage of organ donors, it could take years before people like Maddox receives the organs they need. Although candidates can be matched regardless of ethnicity, success rates increase when organs are matched with candidates of the same ethnic group, according to the Donate Life America Web site, www.donatelife.net.

"Maybe they can help me find that liver to make my life better,'' Maddox said, appealing to the public. "I would like everybody to help me find that liver, that match for me, so I could be at ease.''

The More You Know: To learn more about organ donation and transplant, visit www.transplantfoundation.org or call 305-817-5645.

Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Brittany Williamson, left,  shared a smiling moment with her sister, Jasmine Maddox, right, before a Goodyear blimp ride on April 15 designed to raise awareness of the need for organ transplants.