July 2008 - Life After Death: Blacks and Organ Donations

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If you get a strange, queasy feeling at the thought of your body’s organs living inside of another after your death, you’re not alone. Overcoming a sense of unease about organ donation may be difficult, but consider these facts:

  • Over 90,000 people are currently waiting for lifesaving organ transplants - more than 27% are African American.
  • Blacks - just 12% of the overall U.S. population - represented 25% of those who died in 2004 while waiting for an organ transplant.
  • African Americans are four times more likely than Whites to develop kidney failure – a condition that makes kidneys the organs needed most often. Thirty five percent of those awaiting kidney transplants are African American.
  • On average, 17 people of all racial and ethnic groups die each day waiting for an organ transplant.

As a group, African Americans have historically resisted becoming organ donors. Religion and culture may explain why - and certainly our long history of social, economic and political oppression has left many suspicious of any act that might be viewed as exploitative. Questions such as what and how a patient gets on organ donor lists; who actually receives available organs; and issues around priority, ie. How far down on the list you are to receive an organ – are all legitimate areas for inquiry. But our reluctance and caution should not continue to contribute to the needless deaths of family, friends and members of our community who could receive a second chance at life with a vital organ that we could contribute.

As long as Blacks continue to lead other groups in most lethal disease types, organ donations will remain a necessary and viable option to extend our lives. Finding a suitable organ match increases when prospective donors are screened from members of the same racial group, so survival for many at-risk Black patients depends on organ donations from within our own families and community.

Talk with your family about your decision to become a donor. Fear and suspicion around this issue can be overcome through personal research and dialogue. Just one organ donor can save or improve 50 lives! Consider marking the organ donor box on your driver’s license, tell your family of your decision to become a donor, then consider how grateful you’d be if you were one of the 50 who is waiting.

If you, a loved one or neighbor are waiting for a transplant or have had an organ transplant, your story may offer comfort to those who need this procedure or prompt someone to sign-up as a donor. Be brave, tell your story, post your comments, and help to save a life.

With you on your Journey to Wellness,
Dr. Mary S. Harris

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