Donovon Jacobs, affectionately known as Uncle D, was all about family. The 27-year-old with the tough exterior was a softie when it came to his niece and nephews.
“He was so patient and hands-on with the kids,” Donovon’s mom, Andrea, said. “He wouldn’t get frustrated with crying. If he heard one of the kids cry, he was always like, ‘Hand me a baby!’”
Donovon’s days were filled reading, dancing, potty-training, hugging and protecting his niece and nephews.
He was loving, even as a child.
“He was always the last one in my room at night telling me he loved me,” Andrea said. “He was a good boy.”
From seventh grade on, Donovon would fill countless spiral notebooks with rap poems about life, school and family. He also liked playing basketball; cooking perfectly round, fluffy pancakes; watching Seinfeld; showing off his floor buffing skills when cleaning offices with his dad; being neat and organized; and making people laugh.
“He wasn’t the loudest one in the room and didn’t have much to say about a lot of things, but when he did, he would make it humorous,” Andrea said.
Anyone who knew Donovon appreciated his generosity.
“If he had a dime, he would give it to the kids. He was a sharer,” Andrea said. “He was always doing stuff for the kids. He would never complain about going to the corner store if we needed something. I still picture him walking out the back door with one of the kids.”
Andrea holds on to those memories. On June 3, 2010, just a few weeks before his 28th birthday, Donovon passed away.
That day, Donovon’s giving spirit continued. He saved four lives through organ donation.
“Organ donation was a way for me to hold on and not have to completely let go of my son. You don’t go through nine months of carrying a child and give it away that easily,” Andrea said. “Donovon achieved something greater than what I did in giving him life, and that makes me feel good.”
A few months later, Sam, one of Andrea’s coworkers at the University of Toledo Medical Center, asked if she had corresponded with any of Donovon’s recipients. Andrea said she received a “heartfelt” letter from one recipient. Though she didn’t feel ready to respond, she carried the letter with her every day because “it touched me so much.” Sam’s friend received a kidney transplant and wrote to his donor family but hadn’t heard back, and she thought maybe that family related to Andrea. Andrea pulled the letter out of her purse and let Sam read it. Sam saw the letter was signed “Pete,” and she knew a few lines in that her friend was Donovon’s kidney recipient!
“We were both hugging and crying. I was happy for her friend and she was grateful for us,” Andrea said. “It was so weird how it all happened. It’s like it was meant to be.”
Sam encouraged Andrea to contact Pete, and a few months later, they met face-to-face at Famous Dave’s, a restaurant in Toledo.
“I saw Pete and thought, ‘Wow, you’re living because of my son,’” Andrea said.
Because of Donovon’s right kidney, 46-year-old Pete is healthy enough to work in the construction field, and his dialysis days are behind him. When Andrea learned that Pete gets monthly lab work done at the University of Toledo Medical Center, she thought they might have seen each other before.
“It made me wonder if I’ve crossed paths with others,” Andrea said. “I’ve always made it a point to smile and nod at people, so now, I give an extra nod to gentlemen in their 60s, as I know that one of them received my son’s left kidney, and he has eleven children. An extra nod goes out to all the women in their 40s, as one of them received his pancreas. I think about the young woman with the three kids who was ahead of me in line at the cafeteria a few months back – was she the 30-year-old mother of three who received his lungs and no longer suffered with cystic fibrosis?”
On the way home from Famous Dave’s, which specializes in barbecue, Andrea’s 9-year-old grandson, Ramonte, who possesses his Uncle D’s personality and humor, made the car fill with laughter.
“I wonder if Pete always liked ribs or if he does now because of Uncle D,” Ramonte said.
“I told him I didn’t have the answer, but one thing I knew for sure – Pete is doing a lot of things because of his Uncle D,” Andrea said.
Andrea shares her son’s legacy and educates people about the importance of organ, eye and tissue donation, especially in the African American community.
“As African Americans, it’s hard to believe everything will be done to save our loved ones, but we have to believe that. Doctors take an oath, and they treat all patients the same. They’re going to do everything they can to save my African American son just like they would your son,” Andrea said. “If God has allowed this doctor to come in and work on my son, then I have to trust God. It’s out of your hands, but it’s still in God’s hands, and we need to rely back on our faith and believe that they’re doing everything they can.”
Andrea said being a donor is a “high honor,” and she is very proud of her son.
“Life continues for Pete, and part of me feels like it’s continuing for Donovon,” Andrea said. “That brings me peace.”