Churches nationwide issue plea for increased rates of African American organ donation

11/03/04

Black transplant surgeons unite for first time in national effort to end organ shortage

Washington, D.C., November 4, 2004 -- African American churches and black transplant surgeons nationwide will take part in the Linkages to Life: Organ, Tissue, and Bone Marrow Donation Awareness Program on November 14, with hopes of saving thousands of African Americans waiting for a transplant. The day coincides with the National Donor Sabbath declared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Linkages to Life is sponsored by The Links, Incorporated and Roche.

Of the more than 87,000 people on the nation's growing transplant waiting list, more than 25 percent of them are black. African Americans as a group have a greater-than-average need for organ and tissue transplantation because of the relatively high incidence in this population of certain medical conditions that can cause permanent organ damage, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and kidney disorders. Some experts believe patients fare better when both donor and recipient are from the same racial or ethnic group.

"The organ shortage in this country is a medical crisis, especially in the black community, where the need is greatest. Certainly, increased rates of African American organ donation can help ease this crisis by creating the opportunity for more transplants," said Velma Scantlebury, M.D., director of transplantation services at the University of South Alabama in Mobile and a member of The Links, Incorporated. "I am proud to join my Link sisters and fellow surgeons in this initiative to let people know what is happening in our community."

Linkages to Life is an ongoing, church-based program designed to demystify organ, tissue and bone marrow donation, emphasizing the critical need in the African American community. This year's initiative is the largest ever, with participating churches urging congregations to strongly consider organ donation.

"Seven years on dialysis took a serious toll on my life. I waited so long, I quit waiting," said recent kidney transplant recipient Joann C. DuBose, also of Mobile, Ala. "Today, I am alive and healthy with a new kidney, thanks to someone else's generosity. If more people would consider donation, everyone in need could have this wonderful gift of life."

Linkages to Life events, usually held during church services, feature local organ donors, recipients and transplant medical professionals who share their stories to dispel myths about transplantation. Speakers also encourage attendees to fill out organ donor cards and discuss with their families the decision to donate.

"We're working hard to dispel myths about donation. People fear that donors don't receive proper treatment if they're sick, or that organs are distributed first to the rich or famous. It's not true," said Dr. Scantlebury. "We need to educate ourselves and our community about these issues. Because of advances in surgery and medical care after a transplant, more recipients than ever are living longer and healthier lives."

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