It’s a Gift: Why More Organ Donors are Needed in the Black Community   

It didn’t take long for Canton resident Lawrence Bailey, 67, to see the critical importance of organ donors, especially in the Black community.  

Dealing with kidney disease since he was 22 years old, Bailey battled to stay healthy as he faced numerous bouts of kidney-related issues that kept him less than 100 percent.  

When he eventually went on dialysis decades later, the local deacon had a moment of concern when thinking about where his life was headed.  

Canton resident Lawrence Bailey was a kidney transplant recipient several years ago and counts his blessings even to this day.   Photo provided by Lawrence Bailey     

“Dialysis is tough — it’s a poor quality of life,” Bailey said. “But when you get a transplant, it is like a new life for you, a rebirth.”  

Bailey, who received a kidney transplant in 2013, said that getting a transplant was a “gift from God,” which “enhanced” his life.  

“That’s why I volunteer like I do because I’m thankful to be able to have gotten that organ because everybody on the list don’t get an organ.”  

Bailey said that donors’ organs have to “match up just perfect” with recipients who are waiting on the list.  

“You have to be healthy enough to take a transplant,” Bailey, said adding that he encourages the Black community, in particular, to eat healthy so they don’t have to go on dialysis or have to be on a waiting list for an organ.  

“Your diet means so much and we take it for granted,” he said, adding that the Black community should also consider being more involved in organ donations. “It’s something that’s precious. … We don’t like to donate …that is why I do what I do, go around and educate African Americans on why it’s important to be donors because the best possible match is a match of the same bloodline… other matches can work, too.”  

Gift of Life Michigan, an organ and tissue donation program, is all about helping match up organ donors while bringing hope for healing to the thousands of people still waiting for a life-saving organ.  

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Gift of Life is on pace to recover 426 organs for transplant this year; that would exceed the totals of each of the previous two years and also set an annual record, according to a press release. In total, 1,048 organs were transplanted from 374 donors in 2020, which represents about a 10 percent increase in donors over 2019.  

Gift of Life Michigan is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Since its founding in 1971, Gift of Life has honored the donations of more than 9,500 organ donors, as well as more than 24,500 tissue donors. Despite the thousands of lives saved and despite adding about 250,000 names to the Michigan Organ Donor Registry every year, more needs to be done. About 110,000 people are waiting for a life-saving organ in the U.S., including about 2,500 here in Michigan.  

“As long as there are people waiting for a new organ, there is more work to do,” Bruce Nicely, a chief clinical officer at Gift of Life, was quoted as saying in a press release.  

Dr. Silas Norman, a physician at the University of Michigan Transplant Center who helps improve access to organ transplantation in disadvantaged populations in a statement to the Michigan Chronicle said that there is a lot of discussion about trust in medical providers and reluctance of Black patients to donate.   

Norman said that nationally and statewide, Black individuals make up 16 percent of all deceased donors while being 13 to 14 percent of the population.   

“Where there is a gap is in living donation where typically 8 to 11 percent of live donors are Black. What we have is a relative shortage of Black donors as Black patients make up nearly 30 percent of the people waiting for an organ transplant,” Norman said, adding that there is a particular need for kidney transplants.   

“Black individuals are disproportionately affected by diabetes and hypertension, the leading causes of kidney disease, which results in excess kidney failure among Black individuals,” he said, adding that COVID-19 impacted organ donations, too. “There was a dramatic drop in the number of live donor kidney transplants in 2020 across all ethnic groups, but particularly for Black donors.”  

Dr. Christopher Sonnenday, M.D., the director of the University of Michigan Transplant Center and the executive vice-chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Michigan Medical school shared similar thoughts on the organ donor need in the Black community.  

“While there is often discussion about hesitancy towards deceased and living donation in the Black community – [it is] understandable hesitancy based upon historic mistreatment of Black patients in American medicine,” Sonnenday said. “The challenge is that the need for transplants in the Black community is large, and the entire transplant community – centers, organ procurement organizations, donors — needs to rise to meet that challenge. Our goal as the Transplant Center is to increase engagement with Black communities around the state to better understand their needs and goals, such that we may better serve them in expanding access to transplantation for Black Michiganders.”  

For more information, or to sign up on the Donor Registry, visit www.golm.org or call 866.500.5801.  

 

 

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