BETHESDA, Md. (NNS, 8/01/2013) – Observed during the first week of August, National Minority Donor Awareness Week calls attention to the urgent need for registered organ, eye and tissues donors from minority populations.
There are approximately 119,000 individuals awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In the U.S., 18 people die every day due to the lack of available organs for transplant as the wait list continues to grow.
People of all ages, races and ethnicities can save and enhance lives by donating their organs, eyes and tissues, according to the HHS.
National Minority Donor Awareness Week is a time to thank organ, eye, and tissue donors from all backgrounds – for the lives they have saved, according to Lt. Col. (Dr.) Shane Ottman, chief of the transplant service at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC).
“Every 11 minutes, another name is added to the national transplant waiting list,” said John Ogden, the public affairs and community education manager for the Washington Regional Transplant Consortium (WRTC).
The organ most desperately needed is kidneys, 96,806 individuals need kidney transplants but only 45 percent of adults have registered as organ, eye and tissue donors, Ogden said. One donor can save up to eight lives and enhance the lives of many more.
“Organ donation is most desperately needed among African Americans – while they make up roughly 12 percent of the United States population, African Americans make up nearly 30 percent of the national waiting list for a transplant,” Ogden said.
According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, 35,212 African Americans wait on a kidney transplant list while 21,745 waiting are Hispanic/Latino; 7,939 Asian; 1,215 American Indian/Alaska Native; 585 Pacific Islander and 560 multiracial.
“We obviously need more donors in general and need to encourage all groups to donate,” Ottman said.
According to HHS, African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, as well as Hispanics/Latinos are three times more likely than Caucasians to suffer from end-stage renal (kidney) disease, often as the result of high blood pressure and other conditions that can damage the kidneys.
There are several myths that prevent individuals from donating organs to others. Mistrust of doctors and nurses is “the biggest myth that we face,” Ogden said. Those who don’t donate sometimes believe doctors will let them die on the table to take their organs, he said. “Doctors and nurses are first and foremost trying to save your life,” said the community education manager. Ottman agreed.
“Our goal is to help as many people as possible and increasing the donor pool would be one way to do this,” the transplant surgeon said.
Another organ donation myth is tied to the subject of religion, said retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Lorin Rhaney, 65, a licensed minister and kidney transplant recipient, who is African American.
“They believe if you give an organ, you can’t get into heaven because you’re not going whole, and of course that’s not true,” said Rhaney. “Donating an organ can be a blessing to someone else but also to yourself, in the fact that you’ve given something that will give life, or prolong the life of someone else who’s not as fortunate. Education is the key to that.”
Diagnosed with renal cancer, doctors removed Rhaney’s left kidney. With his remaining kidney operating below three percent, the retired Marine underwent dialysis three times a week for four hours a day for about a year. He needed a transplant. His daughter, Sonja Gomez, 43, the mother of two in Colorado, called her dad and offered him one of hers.
“Initially I felt overwhelmed because it is a sacrifice but it also made me feel really loved,” Rhaney said.
In September 2009, transplant surgeons at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) performed the donor-recipient surgeries.
“The transplant kidney is working beautifully, no issues,” he said. “We named our kidneys, S1 and S2. Hers is S1, mine is S2. I must’ve thanked her eight million times, and I still do.”
Gomez said she was grateful for the opportunity to help her dad. Twelve years earlier, after a move from California in 1997, she registered to become an organ donor when she renewed her driver’s license.
With a multiracial heritage of French, Irish, English, African American and Sioux Indian, Gomez encourages other minorities to consider live organ donation.
“We push the [idea] of donation when we die, but we never talk about live donors,” Gomez said. “There are so many people that need a kidney, and we can function off of one kidney. We can function off a certain percentage of our kidney and be a healthy person.”
She said her dad wouldn’t have even thought to ask one of his children to donate. “I didn’t give him a chance … I just came out and said, ‘Let me do it.'” Gomez said doctors ran many tests to determine she would be able to donate a kidney to her father.
Her recommendation to individuals in need of an organ donation: ask your relatives, ask your friends, ask everyone you know to register to become an organ donor.
Ogden said you can register to become an organ donor when you renew your driver’s license, or online through a state registry. Go to www.organdonor.gov to find one. If you’re interested in helping with minority outreach efforts in the District of Columbia, Md. or Va., contact WRTC at 703-641-0100.
For more news from National Naval Medical Center, visit www.navy.mil/local/nnmc/.