Increasing Access to the Gift that Keeps Loved Ones Living

By Meta J. Mereday

The situation regarding donating organs has reached such extreme proportions that doctors are considering using available lungs of smokers, if necessary, as opposed to having access to none at all with the increased need.  

With African Americans having higher rates of hypertension, kidney disease and diabetes, there is a particularly greater need for donating organs such as kidneys in the African American community.

However, there is an extensive distaste for donating organs that creates an even greater gap in availability.

According to Dr. Clive Callender, founder of the Howard University Hospital Transplant Center, there are a number of reasons that African Americans have reservations against organ donations and transplants. 

The Howard Transplant Center is one of the first minority operated facilities of its kinds and is the leading institution in minority transplants.

Callender has been in the forefront to determine why African Americans have such a negative reaction to donating organs and what can be done to increase this life-saving procedure.

From deep seated religious beliefs within the African American community about disturbing the body to historic fear of medical practices on African Americans, Callender’s research discovered a number of myths and medical atrocities.  

Many African Americans fear donating organs because they feel that their loved ones would not receive adequate life-saving care and be deemed legally dead sooner in order to “harvest” their organs. 

Other issues involve the recipients of the donated organs themselves and whether the organ recipient would be an African American. 

This community has not had a positive relationship within the medical profession as evidenced by the many “guinea pig” projects that involved uninformed African Americans being used for experiments and ill-treated or being denied adequate medical care altogether.

These offensive activities ranged from the Tuskegee syphilis project where African American men were injected with the disease under false pretenses and not given treatment to study the devastating symptoms, to the “Negro Project” where Black women were sterilized without consent as a form of birth control and used by teaching institutions for practice by medical students.  

Needless to say, these and other medical atrocities formed well-founded distrust against the medical community and even the life saving benefits of donating organs could not fully dispel these ingrained feelings.

Undaunted, Callender has made significant inroads to address the myths and the historical mistreatment.

In addition to his duties at the Center, he is also the founder of the National Minority Organ Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP).

Through this organization, Callender was able to obtain funding for a nationwide “Taking Initiatives” program geared towards educating the minority community, especially African Americans, and increasing the diversity in those donating organs through the signing of organ donor cards.

By holding focus groups with a diverse attendance, Callender provides personalized approaches to educating the public including presentations from donors and recipients who answer questions about organ donation.

Following these events, a majority of the attendees sign donor cards due to having a better understanding about organ donation and having past misperceptions addressed.  

This format works much better than having medical professionals lecturing on medical statistics.  Social media campaigns featuring celebrities stricken by kidney disease and recipients of donated organs has also helped the outreach.

Most recently, MOTTEP launched a new theme entitled, “Love Yourself, Take Care of Yourself”, which is focused on, in addition to educating more African Americans about organ donation, encouraging its members to “adopt healthy behaviors, including eating balanced, nutritious meals, exercising and avoiding unhealthy behaviors, being overweight and abusing drugs and alcohol.”

It is a preventative approach to address negative activities that lead to the need for transplants.

Taking one step at a time and becoming better educated about health and wellness is crucial.

Also, helping more people to live in the present and, if circumstances unfortunately occur, to consider sharing the gift of life through donating organs.

Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Magazine, a publication dedicated to the African American community.

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