Martez McGregor, 21, was crowned a boxing champion last October in the North Lawndale Boxing League’s first tournament. But he was born a winner to a winner when he defied doctors, surviving a premature birth, the threat of Down syndrome and being carried by a mother, Lisa Givens, in end-stage renal failure.
Givens, then 25 and a hair stylist, sought medical attention for swollen ankles and was diagnosed as being in the end-stage renal failure and two months pregnant. She was warned of possible birth complications and that the baby would be born with Down syndrome. To give the baby a greater chance at survival, her pregnancy was closely monitored.
“They told me he would be born with Down syndrome,” Lisa recalls. “He was delivered at six months with no trace of Down syndrome. He spent two months in the hospital in an incubator. After that he was fine.”
Givens said her son grew up strong and athletic. He was a good student in high school, but didn’t go to college, she said, because he couldn’t afford it. McGregor, now 21, is an excellent boxer and football player who spends much of his time training in preparation for a professional career.
After McGregor’s birth, Givens was immediately placed on kidney dialysis and, for eight-and-a-half years, she received the treatment three times a week for more than three hours a day.
“It was hard,” Givens said. “I wanted to give up, but I kept going for my sons. I would take my Bible with me to dialysis and encourage others.”
Givens said she never had much of a childhood due to being sickly, with disabilities and illnesses her mother never fully told her about. During her recovery, Givens relied on her grandmother, Marvella Humphrey, for encouragement, support and assistance in raising McGregor and his older brother, Michael. Today, Givens and her grandmother sit beside each other in United Baptist’s church choir where, at 92, her grandmother, a soprano, is the oldest choir member.
Thirteen years ago, Givens received a kidney from a male Jewish donor. “I’m part Jewish,” she says joyfully. “I was released from the hospital three days later feeling like a normal person.”
Just before Thanksgiving 2011, Givens met her donor family for the first time. She had written them twice requesting to meet them, but the family never responded until recently through the Gift of Hope Foundation.
In a private meeting at Givens’ church, the two families met, cried and shared intimacies about their lives. They left that room with a pledge to keep in touch.
Givens said there is a great need for African Americans to become organ and tissue donors. Grateful for her miracles, Givens, an advocate for organ donation and patients awaiting transplants, volunteers for the Gift of Hope Foundation. She also participates in the Transplant Games and last year won a bronze medal for running the 100-meter dash. Since she ran the race in her donor’s honor, she offered that medal to the donor’s family who thought she should keep it for the great work she does inspiring others.