Politics » Politics Feature

Steve Mulroy Is Giving Away a Kidney (Really)

The challenge-seeking county commissioner sees it as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience — with the added benefit of saving a life.”

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The English have a figure of speech which posits that possession of a good kidney is right up there with having a good heart or (more bluntly) a set of balls.

So when a public figure announces, out of the blue, that he intends to give away one of his kidneys to someone else who is in desperate need of one, that's, paradoxically, having a good kidney, all right. And when the would-be donor is donating a kidney not, as one would expect, to a loved one but to whom-it-may-concern out there in the population of renally afflicted John Does, well ... it boggles the mind.

County commissioner Steve Mulroy, who represents the 5th District of Shelby County (East Memphis, essentially), will be undergoing voluntary surgery in a little over a month to have one of his kidneys removed and made available to whoever might need it in the area served by the UT-Methodist Transplant Institute, whose head, Dr. James Eason, will perform the surgery.

(Eason, it will be recalled, performed the liver transplant on Apple founder Steve Jobs in 2009, which, presumably, kept that serial innovator alive long enough to change world culture once again with the introduction of the iPad.)

Mulroy, a Democrat, is the closest thing we have in these parts to an all-purpose crusader for liberal concerns (wage theft and rights for the LGBT community have been two of his recent concerns) and for such other causes as an effort to preserve the erstwhile Zippin Pippin at the Fairgrounds.

He has been in the news frequently enough for one thing or another that a fair enough number of skeptics and a few downright cynics might consider him, frankly, capable of publicity stunts.

Believe it, folks, this is not a publicity stunt.  

We are endowed from birth with two kidneys. They are as necessary for the preservation of life itself as the liver is, or the heart is, or as lungs are. As in the case of lungs, a person can get by with one kidney, but to voluntarily take oneself down to a one-and-only condition seriously reduces one's margin of safety and is an act of extreme self-sacrifice.

It happens all the time, of course. Fathers do it for daughters, sisters for brothers, and often people do it for unrelated persons close to them or even to people in need whom they happen to have heard of. The Reverend Val Handwerker of Immaculate Conception Church did it only last year for one of his parishioners.

That act was one of the things that spurred Mulroy, a fellow Catholic and a friend and admirer of Handwerker, to think about it. Another catalyst was the appearance of a series of billboard public service announcements touting service to others under the head "Pass It On." One of the instances dramatized was that of a man who donated bone marrow to a complete stranger.

Mulroy says a simple thought occurred to him: "I'm a nice guy. I could do that."

I could do that. You have to understand, as those who know him well do, that Mulroy seeks out and responds to challenges. He ran a marathon to see if he could do it. Ditto with a triathlon competition. Jumped out of an airplane to try sky-diving. Just last year, he climbed White Mountain Peak in California.

Just like the cliché has it, he does things because they're there. Donating a kidney? "It's got the same potential for being an interesting, once-in-a-lifetime experience. With the added benefit of saving a life."

That "added benefit" is what turned the trick, of course. As a member of the county commission, Mulroy had become conversant with the life-and-death aspects of transplant surgery and the not inconsiderable number of people whose chances of survival are dependent on it. Just last year, the commission heard abundant testimony from Eason and others about the pending organ shortage facing UT-Methodist Transplant Institute and local patients in general because of a shrinkage of the Mid-South donor base by the United Network for Organ Sharing, a federal liaison authority.

Mulroy found out enough about transplant issues to know that there is what he calls a "logjam" in available organs — one that could be loosened up considerably by acts of "altruistic donation," the term of art for what he intends to do in late April. Unlike the kind of one-for-one exchanges that kinfolks do, making a kidney available for matching up with an unknown needy recipient at random could actually help generate a flow of available organs, Mulroy believes.

How risky will the operation be for him, the donor? "Life is risk," Mulroy answers. But he estimates that the operation, timed for the gap between the spring and summer sessions at the University of Memphis Law School, where he teaches, will require a base recuperation period of maybe 10 days.

"That's the time it will take for me to get back to where I can sit at a desk and teach a class," he says. No doubt he'll have to miss a commission meeting or two, as well. And it will likely be some months before he gets back to running his usual six miles a day or finding other mountains (literal or figurative) to climb.

Mulroy's intended kidney donation, by the way, is something that came to light in the process of checking out a recent hothouse rumor that he intended to leave his commission seat prematurely (he'll be term-limited as of the election of 2014). "I fully intend to serve out my term," says the commissioner, who thinks the rumor was linked to news that leaked out about his pending operation.

As for his recently expressed interest in running for Shelby County mayor, that's still a prospect, too, Mulroy says, though, in conventional political fashion, he professes to be concentrating on issues relating to his commission service just now. And to questions relating to his kidney.

• Shelby County's Democrats completed round one of their biennial reorganization Saturday, holding caucuses at Airways Middle School to select delegates to the party's forthcoming convention at the same venue on April 6th. At the convention, the delegates will elect a new party executive committee and select a chairman from among three candidates — Bryan Carson, a unit supervisor at St. Jude; entrepreneur Terry Spicer; and probation supervisor Jennings Bernard.

A slight contretemps developed over the weekend, when Spicer made a premature announcement that he was to be endorsed by Bernard, who presumably would be leaving the race. Bernard promptly denied either possibility, however, and the race goes on.

• Reorganization of another kind is on the mind of Democrats statewide after the wide circulation this week of a rumor, so far unverified, that two Democratic legislators — state senator Lowe Finney of Jackson and state representative Jason Powell of Nashville — intend to offer a bill that would change the way in which the party's state executive committee is constituted and reduce its membership.

The rumor started with a blog post by Democratic blogger Randy Neal in Knox News stating that the two legislators intended to "reorganize the state party's executive committee and eliminate popular election of committee members." Attributing his information to "sources," Neal said Finney and Powell "will propose legislation as early as this week to designate the Democratic House delegation as the executive committee, and let the House and Senate each appoint five other members from around the state."

Under current state law, the state executive committees of both parties are made up of one male member and one female member from each of Tennessee's 33 state Senate districts for a total of 66. The bill, if there is one, could be limited to apply the new criteria only to Democrats.

There are currently 27 Democrats serving in the state House and seven in the Senate. That many, plus five to be designated by the Democrats in each chamber, would make a total executive committee membership of 44 if a plan like the rumored one should be adopted.

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