With the recent passing of Luther Vandross, the issue of organ donation and kidney transplants is once again at the forefront of the African American community. According to the U.S. Department of Health, there are nearly 90,000 people waiting for life saving organ transplants, twenty-seven percent of which are African Americans. This is due to the fact that minorities are more susceptible to diseases that can lead to organ failure. In response to this growing epidemic The Links Inc. (www.linksinc.org), a non-profit organization made up of 10,000 African American women, started Linkages to Life, a church based program designed to demystify organ, tissue, and bone marrow donation, emphasizing the critical need for more donors in the African American community.
Although minorities make up a good portion of the waiting list, the rate at which they donate does not keep pace with the number needing transplants. This is critical because it is believed that race and ethnicity plays a factor in increasing the survival rates of organ recipients. “We know medically that African Americans have a slightly less chance of survival after transplantation,” explains Dr. Dorian Wilson, a transplant surgeon. “We suspect it’s related to the complex genetics of African Americans that may have to do with racial mixing during slavery.”
Although many of us may want to help we have genuine fears, mostly about our own mortality, that keep us from checking that donor box. “Death is the biggest fear, so we approach these uncomfortable issues by having a conversation about life,” says Links spokeswoman Victoria Dent. “Look at your family history. If your mom has hypertension and your dad has diabetes, you could develop a disease that could lead to organ failure and if they did would you want a transplant? Having a conversation with your family is the most important thing you can do. Talk about your current health status and make your decisions now.”
If you still feel reluctant about organ donation there are other ways you can help. “There are always people who are empowered by this information but won’t participate,” explains Dr. Wilson. “But that shouldn’t stop you from making a plan for yourself or sharing a health awareness program with your family. If more people did that we would make a big dent in the needs of our community.”