CLEVELAND (WJW) – When you receive a great gift, it should be something you share.

And in the five plus years since he received a liver transplant, Jaques Smith is more than willing to tell you about it.

“Thanks to someone’s gift of life saved my life, and I’m so thankful for that,” Jacques said

Jaques had always checked the box on his license to be an organ donor but never thought he would actually become a recipient.

You see, Jaques felt he was in great shape back in 2014.

He worked out, ate right, and led a very busy life juggling family, work, church, and his fraternity.

But Jaques lost a lot of weight and was extremely tired and itchy at times but thought it was just a part of growing older and being so busy.

His wife and family noticed more.

“I credit her a lot looking into things she was googling a lot and looking at my symptoms and said there was definitely something wrong,” Jacques said.

What was wrong was Jaques liver was failing.

The liver takes in all the blood from your stomach and intestines and breaks down, balances and creates the nutrients your body needs and removes toxins.

When it’s not functioning properly, those toxins build up…in particular bilirubin, which turns your skin yellow.

When he finally went to the doctor he was diagnosed with primary billowry cirrhosis of the liver.

His liver was not removing toxins properly, and it was a matter of time before it failed completely.

Sometimes a family member could become a living donor but Jaques’ illness was progressing too rapidly.

“The worse I got, the higher up I went on the list. It got to a point where my wife could no longer be my living donor. It was now about finding someone to save my life,” he said.

But the odds were against that. 

Transplant patients are not specifically matched on race or ethnicity, but transplant matches within the same ethnicity are usually more compatible and successful.

People of color make up about 60 percent of the people who need an organ transplant but only about 30 percent of the donors.

And with a smaller pool of minority donors finding that match is made al the more difficult.

“You have to understand that often times it’s from misinformation, so it’s really our role and our focus that we disseminate and distribute the correct information,” LifeBanc Community Outreach Manager Edmund Wilson III said. “So we’re out in those communities making sure that that they have all the right information that they need we’re able to answer any questions and really talk to individuals face to face and one on one.”

On March 2, 2018, three years after he was diagnosed, Jacques received a liver transplant.

That was three years of in and out hospital stays, three years of worry and sickness…all put to an end by someone’s selfless gift.

Now Jaques is one of those folks who helps put the fact out to communities of color about organ donation and above taking care of yourself.

“I vowed once I got better, I would be a participant in any type of wellness activity any events to spread the news about taking care of your self and being proactive,” Jacques said.

And he’s always out there…you’ll find him talking to anyone who will listen about taking care of your health and making sure you check that box on your license or let your family know about your wishes for organ donation.

Because those wishes can grant the prayers of a person who is waiting for the gift of life because its value can be measured in moments of everyday joy.

“Don’t take anything for granted, don’t take life for granted, one’s health matters be it mentally, emotionally, physically, you name it, you matter, people matter” Jacques said

If you would like to find out more information about organ donation click here.