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Organ donation advocate turns focus to COVID-19 with new ‘Mask Up Initiative’

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    TULSA, Okla. (Tulsa World) — Shelly Brady’s apartment in Paris was not all that big to begin with.

But earlier this year, when the city was on full lockdown due to COVID-19, it came to feel smaller than ever.

“We could only go out for an hour a day,” she said. “To the pharmacist, the grocery store. Or we could exercise outside.”

A longtime Tulsan who lives in France for much of the year, Brady was grateful, though, for authorities’ efforts.

“They were trying to save lives,” she said. “We had 27 people from one nursing home die in one day. Hospitals ran out of beds; they were putting people on trains and shipping them to other cities. It was bad.”

The situation is not as critical in Oklahoma, she knows. But having seen the pandemic at its worst, Brady, who’s been back in Tulsa recently, is hoping to help her home state avoid that scenario.

An entrepreneur, inventor and organ donation advocate, Brady has started what she’s dubbed the “Mask Up Initiative.”

The goal of the effort, she said, is to encourage the public to wear masks by focusing on the safety of first responders and health care workers.

“First responders are doing everything they can during this pandemic to save us if we are sick, all while knowing it puts their own lives at risk,” Brady said. “They need our help now more than ever.”

“We are hoping that if people won’t mask up for themselves or others, then they’ll do it for our first responders,” she added.

If that appeal doesn’t work, Brady is making a special request. For those who decline to wear a mask, if they later test positive, she’s asking them to voluntarily refuse medical assistance so first responders and health care workers aren’t put at risk.

A “Do Not Assist” card that can be signed and dated is available for printing from her website.

“This is not about shaming anybody or hurting any feelings,” Brady said. “I just want to make an impression.”

The back of the card reads:

“I do not agree to wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of my refusal to wear a mask in public, I agree that if I test positive for COVID-19, I wish to be left at home to recuperate or pass away without medical attention to keep healthcare workers safe.”

Brady said, “When there’s an opportunity to open someone’s mind, I feel like it’s a responsibility and an obligation and an honor to do that.”

Brady hopes her previous experience with opening minds gives some weight to her words.

As a passionate organ donation proponent, she sees parallels between that cause and the current situation.

Early on with organ donation, Brady, founder of the Circle of Life program, met many people who were “turned off” by the idea, she said. They thought it sounded “gross.”

“So I would ask ‘if your son or daughter or your wife needed a transplant, would you put them on the transplant list?’ And they said ‘yes’ — every one of them. Then I said, ‘Well, how can we just be a taker? Because somebody else might need us for their family to exist.’”

Brady said when she helped people think more “personally” about organ donation they began to change their minds.

“That’s what I want to do with masks,” she said.

‘A red, white and blue thing’

For the initiative, Brady has found an enthusiastic partner. Her niece, Sydney Turner, was motivated to help in part, she said, because she has friends in health care who are on the front lines.

“One is an ICU nurse who works with COVID patients all the time,” Turner said. “She posts on Facebook asking people to please wear masks. Some tell her they won’t, that masks don’t work.”

“It’s sad to me,” she added. “Because she’s only asking this one thing.”

Turner said the Do Not Assist cards are not intended to sound “mean or divisive, just to provoke deep thought.”

“If we all pull together we can save lives,” she added.

Brady said for years during World War II, citizens rationed and made other sacrifices.

“They gave up a lot,” she said. “The only thing we are being asked to give up is the freedom to not wear a mask.”

“If we do that for four to six months we can curb this thing,” Brady added. “We need to pull together as Americans. It’s not a Trump or Biden thing, it’s not red or blue. It’s a red, white and blue thing.”

Although she’d welcome a statewide mask mandate, Brady is not necessarily asking for one.

What she’d rather see is Oklahomans doing it voluntarily.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we didn’t have to make it a mandate because everybody believed in it — because we are all for saving our state?

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