JACKSON, Miss. – Miss Mississippi Mary Margaret Hyer has a message for her state, one that could impact anyone needing an organ transplant.

“Thirty-three percent of people here are registered as organ donors, but only about 1 in 1,000 die in a way that they can have their organs recovered,” Hyer said. “Only a small number will go on to be donors. That makes me more passionate about getting people registered.”

That little-known fact, gleaned from conversations with staff at the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency, and her personal experiences give Hyer the determination to carry out her pageant platform of organ and tissue donation. Crowned on June 22, the Hattiesburg resident and 2018 University of Mississippi graduate will spend the next year advocating for donation and educating those she meets on how to give the gift of life.

On Thursday, she toured the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s transplant services, meeting with surgeons, nurses, transplant coordinators and other members of the health care teams who treat patients undergoing heart, liver, kidney and pancreas transplants. UMMC has the state’s sole transplant program, along with the only bone marrow transplant unit.

Hyer talked transplant numbers with Dr. Christopher Anderson, professor and chair of the Department of Surgery. Anderson leads the department’s Division of Transplant and Hepatobiliary Surgery.

“As a group, we did 200 organ transplants last year,” Anderson said. “That puts us as a pretty busy center.

“I’m glad you’re waving the flag,” he told her.

Hyer spent time with a number of patients who are on a waiting list for a transplant, telling her story and listening to theirs. In 2010, Hyer said, her grandmother went to a routine doctor’s appointment and was surprised to find out she was in kidney failure.

“We were lucky that before she got to the point of having dialysis, my mom came back as a perfect match,” Hyer said of the 2012 transplant between Margaret McCollum Hyer and her mother, Bobbie McCollum. Bobbie McCollum died of cancer in 2014, but with a perfectly healthy kidney.

When she needed to choose a platform as she began competing in preliminary pageants for the state title, “it was an easy decision,” Hyer said. “There was nothing in my life that had affected me like the transplant did, and there are so many people who weren’t as lucky as we are.”

Her platform is entitled “Advocate, Celebrate, Donate: Decreasing the Donor Organ Deficiency.”

Dan Dyess of Columbia said he’s had a blessed life – and realized just how blessed it had been when he found out he needed a liver transplant.

“I’ve been an organ donor since I was a teenage kid,” he told Hyer. “I always had it on my mind. I never thought I would need an organ myself.”

Hyer chatted easily with Dyess, quickly zeroing in on one of his passions.

“I’m a diehard Rebel fan,” he told her.

“Well, Hotty Toddy!” she answered.

Also on a waitlist was 29-year-old Ashley Kaplar of Belmont. “Thank you for letting me stop by, and good luck!” Hyer told her.

“That was amazing!” Kaplar, who needed a kidney and pancreas, said of meeting her first Miss Mississippi. “It helps a lot, just knowing that her mom helped her grandmother.”

During her year-long reign, Hyer will work toward her goal of 50 percent of Mississippians signing up as organ donors through MORA. She plans to promote her platform in communities she visits, sharing stories of those who received transplants and those generous enough to donate a loved one’s organs or tissues.

Between college graduation and her crowning, she worked as a consultant for her sorority, Phi Mu, and educated hundreds of young women on the shortage of available organs.

“I was a full-time traveler. Every five days, I was on an airplane going to visit college-aged women who are old enough to register to be a donor,” she said. “I got to take my platform nationwide and expand it from Mississippi.

“People aren’t opposed to becoming a donor,” said Hyer, who plans to attend law school next year. “They just don’t realize they aren’t one, or they haven’t thought about it. I’ve been very successful in increasing donor registration just by talking about it.”