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Op Ed: National Minority Donor Awareness Week

Clarence E. Foster, MD, is Kidney Transplant Surgical Director at TriStar Centennial Medical Center

A Reason to Dance

On July 5, writer and teacher Clint Smith tweeted a video of his father dancing with his sister at her wedding reception. The video went viral, garnering nearly 90,000 likes, more than 20,000 retweets, and coverage from major media outlets throughout the nation. You see, this father-daughter dance wasn't only significant for Clint's family - it also resonated deeply with the more than 118,000 people on the organ and tissue transplant waiting list, their friends and family.

Just a few years ago, Clint's father's kidneys failed. He was on the edge of death. It was a kidney donor who saved his life and gave him the chance to dance.

Unfortunately, Clint's father's fight with kidney disease is not unique. And it is even more prominent in the minority community. In fact, members of the minority community comprise 58 percent of those on the organ and tissue donation waiting lists. African Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics are three times more likely than Caucasian people to suffer from end-stage renal disease, often as the result of high blood pressure and other conditions that can damage the kidneys.

Did you know . . .

  • African Americans make-up the largest group of minorities in need of an organ transplant
  • One donor's organs can save up to eight lives; One donor's tissues can restore up to 50 lives
  • Every 10 minutes in the U.S., someone is added to the transplant waiting list
  • Nationally, more than 118,000 people are on the waiting list today. Sadly, 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant.
  • Nearly 3,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant in Tennessee alone

This week is National Minority Donor Awareness Week, which is recognized annually from August 1-7 to increase the public's understanding of the need for more organ, eye, and tissue donors, especially among minorities. This special observance honors minorities who have been donors, and encourages others to register as donors and take better care of their health to reduce the number of people needing a transplant.

Although organs are not matched according to 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 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 can increase access to transplantation for everyone.

After sharing his family's story, Clint Smith encouraged his followers to register as organ and tissue donors. I echo his call to action. One donor's organs can save up to eight lives, and one donor's tissues can restore up to 50 lives. Registering in Tennessee is quick and easy - just visit where you can find all the information you need, sign up as a donor and even indicate whether you prefer to donate all of your organs and/or tissues, or specify which you would like to give. You can also register at the Department of Safety, when applying for, renewing or updating a state driver's license or ID. It is important to tell your family about your decision.

The education and registration of members of minority groups is essential to helping close that gap. This week is the perfect time to honor our friends and family who have been donors by making the decision to save and restore lives, and telling our families about our wishes. After all, when lives in our communities are saved, we all have a reason to dance.


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