Rasheena Phinisee: Changing the game by educating the world on organ transplantation

Cherri Gregg
February 22, 2019 - 6:00 am
Rasheena Phinisee

Cherri Gregg/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Rasheena Phinisee is a force when it comes to organ donation. Her motivation is personal: Her daughter Assiah went into liver failure as an infant.

"Me being a first-time mom, it was a very traumatizing experience," Phinisee said. "The journey in the beginning was very rocky and rough."

Phinisee, who was a student at Temple University when she gave birth, had to grow up very fast. Assiah was just 1 year old when she had her first transplant. The effort was unsuccessful. 

Luckily, Assiah — then 4 years old — received a second transplant, sharing the organ with singer Bobby Rydell.

Assiah Phinisee and Bobby Rydell
Courtesy of Assiah’s Liver Fund

Phinisee quickly became an advocate for her daughter, learning the transplant lingo and educating herself on anti-rejection medication and treatment options. She grew in her confidence and remained unafraid to battle doctors when Assiah's recovery took a wrong turn.

"You need to be equipped with the appropriate knowledge," she explained. "You cannot be afraid to get a second opinion."

But Phinisee realized she is not alone. Many families dealing with pediatric transplantation suffer similar traumas when they are forced to abandon their lives to fight for their child's health. 

As a result, Phinisee founded Assiah's Liver Fund to raises awareness about organ donation and transplantation, as well as to train parents on how to advocate for their chronically ill child.  

She has traveled the country speaking at medical conferences and other huge events, including the Essence Festival.

"It makes you feel good to know that you are putting information — medical information that can be helpful to others — in the community," Phinisee said.

She has made the complicated world of organ transplantation and donation accessible to children. She wrote a children's book, "I Am a Flower Pot Made for a Plant," which educates children about the process of organ donation.  

The organization has also educated the community on a healthy donor lifestyle, developing lemonade-themed products for sale.

"Lemons detox the liver," Phinisee explained. "With drinking healthy, eating healthy and having healthy lifestyle choices — if you are an organ donor and your time is up — you are in a healthy enough state so you can save someone's life."

Rasheena and Assiah Phinisee
Cherri Gregg/KYW Newsradio

Phinisee has also held puppet shows and workshops to stop bullying against kids with chronic illnesses.

"We are teaching children to be conscious, aware and empathetic," she said. "These workshops reinforce the concept that it's OK to be different."

Phinisee also makes a number of other lemony products, like handmade soaps and bath bombs. The money goes toward Assiah's Liver Fund to produce more events and educational opportunities. 

Today, Assiah is 10 years old, and while she still has some tough days, she's doing OK. But Phinisee said the battle is far from over for Assiah’s Liver Fund.

"I want Assiah's Liver Fund to become a resource for families, and I want it to be an ally for the organ procurement industry itself," she said. "Hopefully we will get more resources and provide our own money toward research."

Phinisee said her experience changed the game for her. She hopes by sharing, it does the same for others as well.

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GameChangers is led by KYW Newsradio's community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg and recognizes 10 individuals or organizations that are making a positive impact on communities of color. For a full list of 2019's GameChangers, visit kywnewsradio.com/gamechangers.