Aug. 1-7 is National Minority Donor Awareness Week
Daisy Hernandez is embracing her new life.
Just three months ago on May 5, the 34-year-old Hispanic mother from Springfield received a new lease on life after receiving a kidney transplant at Baystate Medical Center.
“I feel very grateful for the new kidney….I feel free now that I don’t have to go for dialysis three times a week for several hours and plan my life around it. Although, I never did really allow my disorder to dictate my life,” said Hernandez, who was diagnosed at age 17 with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a relatively common kidney disease in the United States. She had been on dialysis since 2006.
August 1-7 is National Minority Donor Awareness Week, created to encourage multicultural populations to learn more about and consider organ and tissue donation, as well as to take better care of their health in order to reduce the number needing a transplant. It also honors minorities who have been donors.
The figures speak for themselves. In 2014, 42% of all those receiving transplants were minorities, 70% of minority transplants were kidneys, and 32% of all deceased donors were minorities. Also, some 58 percent of all people on the waiting list are minorities, while just about one-quarter of all donors are minorities.
Hernandez was put on the waiting list for a kidney in 2010.
“If you are not considering becoming an organ donor, then I think you should give it another thought. You can extend someone’s life. More research needs to be done on educating minority populations about becoming organ donors,” said Hernandez.
Making your wishes known is easy. Potential donors need only to sign a donor card, indicate their wishes on their driver’s license, or register online at donatelifenewengland.org. However, while a signed donor card and a driver’s license “organ donor” designation are legal documents, organ and tissue donation should always be discussed with family members ahead of time.
People of most races and ethnicities in the U.S. donate in proportion to their representation in the population. The need for transplant in some groups, however, is disproportionately high, frequently due to a high incidence of conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, both of which can lead to the need for a kidney transplant.
For example, African Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and 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. African Americans represent about 35% of the patients waiting for a kidney transplant.
Baystate Medical Center offers the only transplant services in western Massachusetts for adult and pediatric patients requiring kidney transplants.
Although organs are not matched according to race/ethnicity, and people of different races frequently match one another, all individuals waiting for an organ transplant will have a better chance of receiving one if there are large numbers of donors from their racial/ethnic background. This is because compatible blood types and tissue markers—critical qualities for donor/recipient matching—are more likely to be found among members of the same ethnicity. A greater diversity of donors may potentially increase access to transplantation for everyone.
Clearly, more minority donors are needed. Despite this fact, many choose not to donate because of myths and misconceptions about the donation process.
One common myth is the idea that you can be too old to become a donor. But age is not an issue, explained Dr. George Lipkowitz, medical director, Transplant Services, at Baystate Medical Center, who noted anyone, regardless of age, should consider themselves as a potential donor.
“Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated,” said Dr. Lipkowitz.
Another myth surrounds religious beliefs; people believe that certain doctrines forbid transplants. However, most of the major religions in the U.S. approve of organ and tissue donation, viewing it as one of the highest expressions of compassion and generosity.
The process of organ donation can save as many as eight lives through the surgical transplantation of organs from a donor to recipients. Most often donors are deceased, but some organs can be donated by living donors.
Hernandez received her kidney from a deceased donor.
“My disease runs in families and I didn’t want anyone donating their kidney to me with the risk they may get FSGS someday,” said Hernandez.
To learn more about organ donation or becoming a living kidney donor, call Baystate Medical Center’s Transplant Services at 413-794-2321, or to learn more about organ and tissue donation and to receive a donor card, contact LifeChoice Donor Services at 800-874-5215. Also, for more information about Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc.