Black History Month highlights need for donors of color

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As the accomplishments and sacrifices of African- Americans in Pennsylvania are celebrated during Black History Month, more than 2,550 individuals from the Black community in need of organ or tissue transplantation face an uncertain future. A shortage of organ and tissue donors means nearly 60 percent of those needing a transplant will wait for more than a year. Many can expect to wait for more than five years. Waiting for matched organs may mean a recipient will be sicker at the time of transplant1on, worse, die waiting.

African-Americans in Pennsylvania can change the course of history by becoming organ and tissue donors. One organ and tissue donor can give more than 50 people a second chance at life.

“There is a critical need for registered donors from the African-American community in Pennsylvania,” said Janice P. Kopelman of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

While African-Americans make up 11 percent of the state’s overall population, they represent 32 percent of Pennsylvanians waiting for organ or tissue transplants. The majority, more than 2,200 African-Americans, are waiting for kidney transplants.

Organ and tissue donation is an extraordinary way to impact the lives of others, but many myths and misconceptions can interfere with the decision to sign up to become an organ donor. Organ donation is available to people of all ages and at no cost to their family. The process does not interfere with traditional funeral arrangements and is supported by all major religions. Organ donation takes place only after all efforts to save a life have been exhausted. In addition, organs are matched by factors such as blood and tissue types, organ size, medical urgency, waiting time and geographic location without consideration of wealth or social status.

The following is a list of Pennsylvanians whose lives have been affected by organ donation:

•Diane Royster, of Pittsburgh, is celebrating her 20th year as a liver transplant recipient.  Since that time she has worked hard to promote the importance of organ donation within the African-American community through her volunteer work with CORE.

•Michelle Smith, of Harrisburg, donated a kidney to her brother who developed health issues following his service in the Vietnam War. Smith has enjoyed watching her brother become an active grandparent.

•Philadelphia’s 4th District Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. became a liver and kidney donor to his younger brother. By giving this gift of life, he was able to aid in his brother’s recovery.

Becoming an organ and tissue donor is as simple as adding the donor designation to your driver’s license, learner’s permit or state identification card. Sign up at your local Department of Motor Vehicles or by visiting http://www.donatelife-pa.org, because life begins with you.

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