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Secretary of State Jesse White visits Joliet Junior College

JOLIET – Kimberly Koning’s family was saying its goodbyes to her after a digestive problem turned into a fight for her life.

She needed a liver transplant. But because of her urgent condition, she was moved to the top of the donor list. And a doctor asked her why she should be the one to receive the transplant.

“I had nothing else to say but I want to live,” Koning said. “I wasn’t ready to give up on life.”

Koning, a nursing student at Joliet Junior College, shared her story with Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, students and officials from JJC and the city of Joliet Friday morning during White’s Be A Hero public awareness campaign press conference at the college.

“Everytime I think of signing up one person, I think about saving 25 lives or helping them improve the quality of life for individuals,” White said.

While many consider firefighters, athletes and other figures of strength heroes, White said examples of teachers donating organs to students and doctors donating to patients show a hero can be anybody who signs up to become an organ donor.

The Be A Hero campaign is aimed to register as many Illinois residents as possible to become organ or tissue donors. More than 5.5 million out of 15 million people in Illinois are registered already, White said. But there are more than 5,000 on donor waiting lists and about 300 people die each year while waiting for a transplant.

White is partnering with community colleges throughout the state to spread awareness. The students with the top campaigns will receive internships and money through Donate Life Illinois partners.

“These young people have upward mobility,” White said. “They’re free thinkers that can understand the message.”

JJC freshman Serena Brownfield was walking in the school when she noticed the setup for the press conference. Her mother was put on a waiting list for a liver transplant.

“I didn’t take organ donation very seriously at first,” Brownfield said. “But now that it’s my mother, I know how important it really is. These are family members. You can never get them back.”

For more information or to sign up as an organ donor, visit and follow the directions to join the registry.

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