Links to connect to black organ donors through ‘Be the Match’ event

The Commercial Appeal

April 8, 2014

Organ donation has been a hard sell in the black community, but progress is being made, said Kim Van Frank, executive director of the Mid-South Transplant Foundation, the federally designated organ procurement organization serving West Tennessee, East Arkansas and North Mississippi.

“Back in 2007 — this was an ‘aha’ moment for our organization — we had a 27 percent authorization rate for donation when we approached African American families, and this last year in 2013, 59 percent of the African American families we approached said ‘yes’.”

Education and outreach are credited for the increase, and this month — April is “Donate Life Month — The Links, among other organizations, are extending that outreach.

The “Be the Match” drive, sponsored by local River City Chapter of The Links, Inc., will be held from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday at LeMoyne Owen College, 807 Walker Ave. And on April 26, the Mid-South Transplant Foundation will hold its “Linking Hands for Life” concert at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park.

The global network organization Be the Match is a leader in bone marrow transplantation, research, support and resources. Chapters of The Links, a women’s volunteer service organization that seeks to enrich and ensure the cultural and economic survival of African Americans, across the country have joined with historically black colleges and universities, and Be the Match, to raise awareness about the need for donations.

At LeMoyne-Owen, there will be a live radio broadcast, and “all the colleges in the Shelby County area will participate through their Greek letter organizations, so we’re hoping to have a pretty sizable crowd,” said Carla Stotts-Hills, president of the Links River City Chapter. The Sickle Cell Foundation will be on hand to conduct screenings for sickle cell and the American Red Cross will distribute blood drive materials.

Organ donation is of particular interest to African Americans in Memphis due to the high rate of kidney transplants in the area. Leading factors of kidney failure — high blood pressure and diabetes — affect the black community in disproportionate numbers.

In West Tennessee, Van Frank said, “82 percent of those waiting for a kidney are African American. Nationally, it’s 34 percent African American, so we have a tremendously higher number here waiting on a kidney.”

As of mid-March, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Organ Procurement and Transplant Network reported that at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis there were 692 people of all ethnicities awaiting organ transplants. Of that number 544 were African American and 527 of them were awaiting kidneys.

And at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, “Most of the patients on the kidney transplant list in our centers, almost three-fourths, are African American,” said Dr. Satheesh Nair, professor of medicine at the center and director of Transplant Hepatology at the Methodist University/University of Tennessee Transplant Institute. “If our donor population increases, it benefits us directly.”

.Donor recruitment is difficult but crucial, Van Frank said. “It’s a rare opportunity that someone has to be an organ donor; it’s about 2 percent of the population that are ever going to die in a manner that allows them to be a donor. Currently, we only have 33 percent of those with drivers licenses in the state of Tennessee that are actually signed up to be a donor, and we’ve been striving to make that number 50 percent for the last four years and, basically, we have made little progress in that.”

Organ, blood and tissue donation isn’t as simple as asking, however. It requires education and, in some cases in the African American community, a battle against long-held faith and beliefs . . . (read more)