Thursday, July 28, 2011
New Yorkers, Communities Of Color Urged To Become Organ Donors
More than 9,000 New Yorkers are currently on organ and tissue transplant waiting lists, making up almost 10 percent of the nation's need. Local health officials say that is an abysmal number and it is even worse for people of color. NY1's Health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
At the New York Organ Donor Network, medical professionals are able to take in donated kidneys and place them on a pump so they go to the next available match in the region. They have 14 pumps for kidneys, but only one is in use, and that is a number they would like to see change.
When it comes to organ donation, some people live out stories of gain.
"I got on the list to get on the heart transplant list. April 17, after being in the hospital for almost three months, I enjoyed the miracle of the gift of life, and I'm told from a 21-year-old male from Ohio," says heart transplant recipient Kelvin Smith.
But all too often, there are stories of loss.
"Fifteen years ago, there was a chance my father's life could have been saved," says Drew White, who lost his father to liver disease. "He was escalated to the top of a liver transplant recipient list where we waited for what seemed like forever. Unfortunately, time caught up to us and his life was over."
Only 16 percent of New Yorkers over the age of 18 are signed up to become organ donors, compared to a national average of 41 percent.
To fix that, state health officials are renewing efforts to boost enrollment through what they are calling the "Give The Gift Of Life" campaign. Since well over half of those on transplant waiting lists are minorities, health officials are putting a special focus on communities of color.
"Depending on the organ, there are areas if you have someone of the same race and ethnicity, there is less likely risk of rejection of the organ," says Dr. Nirav Shah, the state health commissioner. "You can get away with fewer medications over time."
While it may improve chances, that does not mean transplants cannot be successful across racial and ethnic groups. In many cases they are.
In addition to reaching out to minority groups, state officials are trying to make it easier for all New Yorkers to register.
Right now, most people sign up when they get a driver's license or state ID. To complete the process, one has to send a consent form in the mail. The state is trying to create a completely online system.
For more information on signing up to be an organ donor, visit health.state,ny.us.