Of the roughly 113,000 people currently on the national organ transplant waiting list, nearly 30% of them are black.
When you get a new driver’s license or state ID, they ask whether you’d like to sign up to be an organ and/or tissue donor. Many people check the box marked ‘yes’ – a noble choice as one organ donor can save up to eight lives, and each tissue donor can improve the quality of up to 75 people’s lives.
But if you’re someone who checked ‘no,’ chances are, if pressed, you wouldn’t have a great answer as to why you didn’t register. Or, maybe, what you think is a good reason why not is actually just a myth, one that Gift of Life Michigan is determined to dispel.
Of the roughly 113,000 people currently on the national organ transplant waiting list, nearly 30% of them are black, the most of any group, and most of them are waiting for kidneys. Black people suffer from kidney failure at a rate more than three times higher than their white counterparts, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
An especially popular misconception amongst black people is that their faith doesn’t allow for organ and tissue donation. Director of Gift of Life Michigan’s Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program, Remonia Chapman, hears this one a lot, but, in fact, most major religions support organ and tissue donation – it’s considered an act of charity and goodwill.
MOTTEP collaborates with faith and community leaders to organize special programming to educate worshipers and stir conversation, like their annual concert, Psalm of Saving Lives.
Chapman says MOTTEP “has a dualistic message of disease prevention – trying to prevent the onset of diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, which are the leading causes of end-stage organ failure – as well as encouraging people in the community to sign up to become an organ and tissue donor. Sometimes people say, ‘Well, if I sign up, people won’t try as hard to save my life’ and things of that nature, and that is a myth.”
The doctors and nurses involved in caring for you typically know nothing of your donor status during treatment, and they aren’t the same team that would harvest your organs in the event of your death.
MOTTEP’s Kountz Callender Dru Transplant Symposium beckons people involved in the transplant process – surgeons, social workers, funeral directors – to, again, engage with the community and put fears to rest. “That particular symposium is designed to provide information on a professional level and educational level to those persons who need the services as well as those persons who provide the services,” Chapman says.
When the MOTTEP program came to Michigan, Chapman says the minority donation rate was about 10.8% in the Detroit area, now it’s up to about 27%. “When we first started, people weren’t inviting us to participate in different events. Now, it’s becoming more common that we’re participating in all types of events throughout the community,” she says.
“The donation rates have gone up. More people are on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry, but we do know that there’s still a lot of people who are somewhat reluctant. What is it that we need to say and do to help to make you feel that you can trust this process and this system?”
Donating your organs or tissue will not require that you have a closed casket funeral, your family won’t be charged any fees associated with the recovering or processing your organs and tissue, and even if you’ve had a serious illness like cancer, you’re still encouraged to join the registry. “What we’re trying to do is demystify the mystery of what the organ donation process is,” Chapman says.
And they take care to support families through each step. “The way to really get through it is using our donor families, because they’re the persons that we’ve had to talk to at the most tragic time in their lives. So, when we can show that there is a love and there’s a reverence, there’s a concern, there’s a respect,” losing a loved one become a bit easier.
MOTTEP has implemented other programs like their Let’s Talk Campaign, a focus group to figure out what the community wanted and needed – mostly, it’s transparency – and Dialogue Circles, for another chance to engage with the community. Those sit-downs have shown that people want education in other languages, so MOTTEP is working with non-English speaking ambassadors in different neighborhoods.
“The great thing about it is we try to go into the community and let the community guide us on how we can become the best educational stewards we can be,” Chapman says. “I just talked to someone last week that showed me that on her mantle she has a picture of her son, his urn (and) the Gift of Life medal. She was proud that her son is a hero and has been able to help and save six other lives.”
Join the Gift of Life MOTTEP LIFE Walk/Run on Belle Isle on July 27. Visit detroitmottepfoundation.org to register, volunteer or for more info.