National Donate Life Month (NDLM) was established by Donate Life America and its partnering organizations in 2003. Observed in April each year, National Donate Life Month helps to encourage Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and to honor those that have saved lives through the gift of donation.
This year the theme for National Donate Life Month 2020 was inspired by the springtime scene of a garden. A garden and the insects within in it serve as symbols of hope, courage and transformed life. As a living donor, I can confirm that these themes are repeatedly experienced within the donation and transplantation journey.
My journey to become a living donor began when my oldest daughter suffered the loss of both of her kidneys in a catastrophic auto accident in November 2018. As I trained and aimed to become proficient at performing home hemodialysis, I saw first-hand the physical and emotional impact of dialysis on my daughter, and the many others with whom I had the fortune of meeting at the dialysis center where I trained.
One can live many years on dialysis, so it is not a death sentence, but it is a life sentence. According to a 2019 article published by the American Journal for Kidney Diseases, “men treated with dialysis had worse adjusted 5-year survival than men with prostate or colorectal cancers and women on dialysis had worse adjusted 5-year survival than women with breast or colorectal cancers.”
As I fought for my daughter to be able to return to the life she had, I quickly learned that a transplant was the best and only path for her to achieve a quality of life closest to that which she had before the accident. I imagine that most, if not all of us Jack and Jill Mother-Members would do or give anything for our children- and I am no different. Thus, without hesitation, I was resolved to donate a kidney to her. Unfortunately, since she had to endure 14 surgeries and countless blood transfusions resulting from the multitude of injuries she sustained, I was no longer deemed eligible to donate a kidney directly to her because our blood types were no longer a match.
Sad but not discouraged, we opted to participate in the National Kidney Registry Paired Donor Exchange which pairs recipients with donors who may not be a match for their loved one or who choose to donate altruistically. As a result, I was able to donate a kidney to help another person in need so that my daughter would receive a kidney transplant sooner. (The average wait time in our region for a deceased donor is 5-7 years, and for a living donor 2-3 years). In fact, we were part of a chain of 16 people: 8 donors and 8 recipients. My daughter received a life-transforming transplant, but I acquired so much more! The hope, the courage, the love for others and humanity were the links in our chain. My initial motivation was selfishly and solely about helping my daughter, but the metamorphosis that I experienced knowing that I had been able to change someone’s life and the lives of their loved ones was- and is- immeasurable and beautiful. Being a living kidney donor has no impact on the donor. For a healthy donor, living day to day with one kidney is no different than living with two; and, studies have shown that living with one kidney does not change a kidney donor’s life expectancy. Share your spare!
The Need for African American Donors: Numbers Tell the Story
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. African Americans make up the largest group of minorities in need of an organ transplant.
Patients from communities of color make up more than half – 58% – of the national waiting list for a life-saving transplant.
- African Americans represent 40% of people waiting for organ transplants at transplant centers in our region, which includes Delaware, the eastern half of Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.
- The number of organ transplants performed on African Americans in 2019 was 25.8 percent of the number of African Americans currently waiting for a transplant. The number of transplants performed on white Americans was 47.6 percent of the number currently waiting.
- While 28.7 percent of the total candidates currently waiting for transplants nationally are African Americans, they comprised 12.5 percent of organ donors in 2019.
- Although the total number of white Americans on organ transplant waiting lists is about 1.4 times greater than that of African Americans, the number of candidates waiting for a kidney transplant is almost the same between African Americans and white Americans.
- African Americans have higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure than the white population. These conditions are known to put patients at risk for organ failures.
- Of the 2,026 African Americans waiting for transplants in our region, 934 are waiting for kidney transplants.
- In the 25-44-year-old age group, the rate of African Americans who have kidney failure caused by high blood pressure is 20 times higher than Caucasians.
Unfortunately, the need is growing, but the number of people volunteering to donate isn’t. The result is a national organ shortage. Nationally, there are approximately 112,000 people waiting for an organ transplant. Every ten minutes, another person is added to the list. The need is great, and you have the power to do something about it, by becoming an organ donor. Your single selfless act to register as an organ donor gives you the opportunity to save up to eight lives. You can also heal many more lives through tissue donation.
Show You Care
On average, 20 people die each day in the United States because the need for organs far exceeds the current number of available life-saving gifts. The lack of available organs for transplant is an urgent public health issue- and, particularly in our African American community.
The Donate Life garden depicts an ecosystem of plants, insects, and other components working together to form an interconnected living system. Similarly, we each have the potential to nurture and enrich our communities through organ, eye and tissue donation. You can help by registering as an organ donor today! SIGN UP TODAY!