Can We Talk? A Conversation about Life...

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With the black community facing an ever-worsening organ shortage, the findings of a national survey released last fall show that a family discussion about organ donation-one of the most important steps in the process of becoming an organ donor-is often overlooked, with more than 8 out of 10 African Americans unaware of the importance of speaking to their loved ones about their wish to become a donor.

The significance of this is clear: 92 percent said they would be likely to donate a family member's organs if that person had expressed the desire to be a donor, while only 43 percent said they would be likely to donate a family member's organs if the person hadn't mentioned it.

Regardless of a potential donor's wishes marked on a driver's license or organ donor card, family members in most states will be consulted about donating a loved one's organs following his or her death. The family conversation is especially important in the African American community, since 27 percent of the people on the organ transplant waiting list are black-more than double their representation in the general population.

According to this national survey of African Americans commissioned by The Links, Inc., an African American women's service organization, nearly 90 percent of respondents realize the need for organ donation in the black community. However, the numbers show that having the donation conversation nearly doubles the chances that a donor's selfless wishes will be honored.

The Linkages to Life™ Organ, Tissue and Bone Marrow Donation Awareness Program is conducted by The Links and Roche, the pharmaceutical company. Linkages to Life is an ongoing, church-based program designed to demystify organ, tissue and bone marrow donation, emphasizing the critical need in the African American community. Linkages to Life events, usually held in churches, feature local organ donors, recipients and transplant medical professionals who share their stories to dispel myths about transplantation. Speakers encourage attendees to fill out organ donor cards and discuss with their families the decision to donate. In 2005, events were held in nearly 90 churches nationwide on National Donor Sabbath, November 13, a day of observance declared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition to a nationwide public service announcement, a Can We Talk? guide was unveiled and distributed as part of the Linkages to Life program, to help people initiate the critical and often overlooked organ donation conversation. The conversation starter guide can be obtained at www.linksinc.org

The following statistics show why programs like Linkages to Life are desperately needed to demystify donation and help end the organ shortage:

  • Over 90,000 people are currently waiting for lifesaving organ transplants, and the list of candidates continues to grow. More than 27 percent of people waiting are African American.
  • African Americans are about 12 percent of the population, but comprised nearly 25 percent of the people who died in 2004 while waiting for an organ transplant.
  • African Americans are four times more likely than Caucasians to develop kidney failure, which often leads to the need for a transplant.
  • Nearly 35 percent of the people on the waiting list for kidney transplants are African American. Kidneys are the organs needed most frequently.
  • On average, 17 people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds die each day waiting for an organ transplant.
  • Another person is added to the organ transplant waiting list every 13 minutes.
  • One organ donor can help save or improve the lives of more than 50 people.

Sources:

Data as of Jan 12, 2006

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