More people of color should be organ donors

Last August, a childhood friend, Terri Long, had a touch-and-go moment. Her liver shut down and she almost died. This healthy African-American woman had no history of liver trouble. However, on this day “something just didn’t seem right,” she told me.

Terri drove to Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, where she was diagnosed with acute liver failure. She needed a transplant as soon as possible. Just two days later, the medical staff, working with United Network for Organ Sharing and OneLegacy, the world’s largest organ-recovery organization, found a liver and within 24 hours performed the surgery.

Terri received her transplant quickly because she had a very high MELD score — an assessment of the severity of chronic liver disease — which vaulted her to the top of the list. She has fully recovered and is busy as ever with her job helping homeless people find a place to live.

Unfortunately, others who need transplants, especially minorities, experience a different reality. About 20 people in the USA die each day waiting for transplants. This fact is particularly significant for minorities because they suffer more frequently than whites from diseases of the kidney, heart, lung, pancreas and liver that can lead to organ failure. For instance, according to the Department of Health and Human Services:

•Native Americans are four times more likely than whites to suffer from diabetes.

•Blacks and Asian and Pacific Islanders are three times more likely than whites to suffer from kidney disease.

•Minority communities don’t donate enough organs to keep up with the needs of these communities. Blacks, for instance, are 13 percent of the population but only 12 percent of donors. Yet nearly a quarter of the people on the kidney waiting list are black.

The entire U.S. population would benefit, of course, from greater donor participation. And though race isn’t a determining factor in who receives what transplant when, transplants within the same race can improve the chances of success.

That fact is one of the many reasons why more people of color should become donors. Doing so gives others a second chance at life. Terri is living proof.

James Key is an Army chaplain. He is author of “Touch and Go: From the Streets of South Central Los Angeles to the War in Iraq.”


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