AUSTIN – Tarrant County state Sen. Kelly Hancock, the recipient of a life-saving kidney transplant from his son-in-law, used a largely ceremonial forum as governor-for-a-day Saturday to push for legislation increasing awareness of the need for organ donations from living donors. 

The son-in-law, Greg Cox, and other family members were among more than 200 guests who attended the outdoor ceremony on the front lawn of the Texas Governor’s Mansion across from the State Capitol. Hancock formally designated April 29, 2023, as Donate Life Day Texas to advance efforts to expand the availability of organ donations to save the lives of thousands of Texans awaiting transplants.

In an interview after the event, Hancock, 59, said he has been in robust condition after recovering from the transplant and took a four-mile run on Austin’s town lake hours before the noon-time ceremony. A fundamental goal, he said, is “letting people see that you can have a normal life” after someone steps forward to donate an organ.

Hancock, a resident of North Richland Hills and a member of the Senate since 2013, serves as President Pro Tempore of the Senate and became acting governor Saturday in the absence of the governor and lieutenant governor. The “governor-for-a-day” event is typically a largely ceremonial occasion during each legislative session, but Hancock used the forum as an opportunity to promote what has become an impassioned cause since his kidney transplant in July of 2022.

Hancock’s SB1249, which passed the Senate 31-0 in early April, would create a Living Donor Registry Education Program in Texas that would bring together those desperately in need of a transplant and those willing to donate an organ to help save lives.  

As many as 10,000 Texans have applied for organ donations, including 85 percent who are awaiting kidneys and 11 percent who are seeking liver donations. In 2020, more than 5,700 lives were saved by donations from living donors, according to an analysis of Hancock’s bill.

The event was chaired by Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker and, in addition to Cox, included others who have either donated organs or received them. Tarrant County District Attorney Phil Sorrells was on hand to administer the oath of office that launched the hours-long Hancock administration.

Hancock struggled with a rare genetic kidney for decades but kept the ordeal out of public view until the transplant from his son-in-law in July of 2022. Since then, he has resumed his senatorial duties in the 88th Legislature and his efforts to boost transplant awareness have been a major goal of his current term in the Senate.

“I never knew what tomorrow would bring,” Hancock said, describing his private life as someone struggling with kidney disease. “I never knew when I’d be on dialysis. So it taught you to live a day at a time.”

Hancock’s bill, which is awaiting a hearing in the House Public Health Committee, would  establish a live donor recruitment and education program. Texans renewing their driver’s licenses with the Texas Department Public Safety can register to donate their organs following their death but no similar program exists to register as a living donor.

The governor’s-for-a-day ceremony also included a fund-raising event that also included a nighttime concert on Saturday and a Sunday golf tournament. The minimum goal was $250,000, but organizers were hoping to exceed that amount.

Hancock’s goal of expanding the number of living donors is critical to reducing the number of those on the organ wait list, said Chad Carroll, executive director of Donate Life Texas, created by the Legislature in 2005 to oversee the state’s organ donor registry.

When he was 27, Hancock was diagnosed with a kidney disease that impairs the organ’s ability to filter waste from blood. Though doctors told him his kidney would eventually fail, Hancock controlled the disease for decades with a strict diet and exercise while maintaining his highly public life as a state lawmaker.

After it became clear he would need dialysis, eight family members got tested to see if they were matches, according to an account in the Texas Tribune. Two of his daughters and a son-in-law, Cox, confirmed as matches, but the daughters had recently given birth, leaving Cox to step forward to donate his kidney.

In an interview, Cox called the opportunity to prolong the life of his father-in-law law “one of those moments of clarity and certainty that I was meant to do.

“This was a whole new world opened to me,” said Cox, a Fort Worth attorney who is married to Hancock’s daughter Chloe.

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David Montgomery

David Montgomery is a longtime journalist who has served as an Austin Bureau chief for the Dallas Times Herald, Austin and Washington bureau chief for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, and Moscow bureau...