When Shirley Brill sits down at the organ at St. Stephen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, Florida, the music she makes is a testament to her faith. It’s also a testament to the life-changing power of organ donation. And not the kind of organ Shirley plays as minister of music at the church.
“I was at death's door,” Shirley recently told First Coast News. She’d begun experiencing shortness of breath back in 2004 but initially “kind of ignored it,” the accomplished organist and singer tells the station. Eventually she would learn she had a lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. There’s no cure for the condition, which damages the lungs and makes it increasingly difficult to breathe.
Shirley began relying on oxygen therapy, but that changed on May 6, 2008 — the day Shirley received a double lung transplant at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus. “I’ve often said that, in one word, my life was restored,” she tells First Coast News.
When Shirley recovered from surgery, she went back to making music at her church. But she also had a new ministry: sharing the good news about organ donation and the great need for more organ donors. “A way to kind of pay it forward is to spread awareness, especially in the minority community,” Shirley, who has been a registered donor herself since she was a teenager, tells First Coast News. In addition to sharing her story, she also started a Facebook group, Educating Minorities About Transplant.
Shirley’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. She’s inspired many around her to register as organ donors, including most of her grandchildren. She tells First Coast News that one of them died of lupus in 2013, and “in her passing, she ended up donating her corneas,” adding, “We’re very proud of her for that.”
Shirley says she tries to honor her own donor through not only her music, but also her life. “They’ve gone on, but a part of them lives on in mine, and I want to do them justice,” she says in this video. “I want to be a positive influence in the world. I want to continue giving. I want to be just a good person so I can help others.”
To that we say, Amen.
You can hear Shirley sing in the second video included with the First Coast News story. Then hit a high note with us by leaving a comment below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.