WASHINGTON – Worshippers at the nation’s black churches, including in Maryland, this Sunday will hear clergy, physicians, recipients and donor families urging them to talk to their loved ones about organ donation.
Sunday’s events coincide with the National Donor Sabbath, a three-day U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-sponsored program targeting all religious and racial groups.
Blacks are at greatest risk for transplants because of their relatively high incidence of certain diseases that cause permanent organ damage, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and kidney disorders.
About 90,000 Americans are on organ transplant waiting lists, with a person added every 13 minutes, according to HHS.
Because organ transplants rely heavily on genetics, organ donor and recipients are preferably matched by race. Currently, however, African Americans make up 27 percent of the transplant waiting list and only 12 percent of the donor list, according to Links Inc., an African-American, female-run nonprofit sponsoring the organ donor education program Linkages to Life.
“It’s just not something that is talked about at the dinner table,” said Links Inc. member Dorothye Bush, who is organizing the event for her church, The People’s Community Baptist Church in Silver Spring. “Once there is a need, the community tends to rally. Unless there is a need in your microfamily you may never get the information.”
This issue came close to home for Frederick’s Felacita King. Her husband, Louis III, died from a heart attack in 2001. Because the two of them discussed their potential organ donation, Felacita didn’t hesitate in allowing doctors to recover her husband’s tissues.
“Where we’re going, we’re not going to need them. If I can help someone live a fuller life, they can have whatever they want from me,” said King, who has become an advocate for organ and tissue donation and who will speak this Sunday at her church, the Frederick Christian Fellowship Church.
One of the first things King asks people is whether they are an organ donor. The majority of those who are not tell her it’s because they fear that the doctors in the hospital are only concerned with retrieving organs and blood.
King, having first-hand experience in this matter, tries to convince them otherwise.
“The doctors who attend to you in the emergency room are not the same doctors who perform organ and tissue transplants,” said King.
There are also several myths concerning organ and tissue transplantation, one being that major religions do not support it, said Washington Regional Transplant Consortium spokesman Mark McCullough. Most religions, he said, support this cause and view it as an act of compassion and generosity.
A driver’s license organ donation designation also may be insufficient, said Links Inc. spokesman Carlisle Campbell since, in most states, “families can override what is stated on the driver’s license.”
“Misconceptions about organ donation still prevail,” said Victoria Dent, program chairwoman for Linkages to Life. “If everyone who wanted to be a donor shared that wish with his or her family, we could save thousands more people every year through organ donation.”
Hoffmann-La Roche, a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company that is a major maker of immune-suppressing drugs for transplant patients, is also cosponsoring the Linkages program and is underwriting the brochures used at churches.
Major organs such as kidneys, liver, heart and lungs can be donated as well as other organ and body parts including pancreas, intestine, corneas, connective tissue and bone. Living donations — of a kidney, part of a lung or liver — are also becoming more common.