Dr. Harry Wilkins III knows a lot about organ donations, and he's about to bring that knowledge home to Chicago. He's the incoming president and CEO of the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network, covering most of Illinois and Northwest Indiana.
"So there are nine transplant centers, there are over 108 hospitals, over 13 million service area and we coordinate organ donations for all those areas," Wilkins explained.
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It is a true homecoming for the trauma surgeon who graduated from Northwestern University and Harvard.
"I grew up on the South Side and I left probably in the '80s, the middle of the '80s, and since have been in Maryland, Texas, Kansas and Missouri and finally moved back," Wilkins said. "My career path has taken me all those places."
A native of the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood, Wilkins was most recently at Blessing Hospital in Quincy. In his new role, he becomes the first African American CEO of the Gift of Hope, appointed, coincidentally, during National Minority Organ Donor Awareness Month.
"Over 35% of the wait list is African American, but only 13% of the population is African American," he said.
When asked what he hopes to achieve, Wilkins said, "If you can prevent end-stage organ failure, then that wait list can come down, but then if you can't prevent it and you're there, we want to try and provide as many organs as possible. That's my overarching goal is to end that wait list for those waiting for a life-saving organ."
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In the meantime, he said, it's just good being home.
"My mother worked all over the city in education, so I know she's probably smiling down right now that I'm the incoming CEO of this great organization," he added.
Wilkins officially takes over Gift of Hope in October. He continues to urge people to sign up to be an organ donor and let your relatives know your wishes.