The need for lifesaving organ transplants affects all communities regardless of race, ethnicity, age or sex. However, when it comes to race in organ donation and transplantation, there is an even greater need for organ transplants among diverse communities and a need in our region and nationally for more people of color to sign up as organ, eye and tissue donors.
National Multiethnic Donor Awareness Month, celebrated in August, aims to help save and heal the lives of diverse communities by growing understanding of organ, eye, and tissue donation across all ethnicities. The lives of those waiting depends on others in our community. That’s why it’s important to get the facts about organ, eye and tissue donation.
Race in Organ Donation: Local Need in Our Communities of Color
Here in Colorado and Wyoming, there are around 1,500 people waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. While the need for transplants affects people across all communities, almost 50% locally, 60% nationally, of those on the waiting list belong to communities of color:
- 26% of the people locally waiting for a transplant are Hispanic
- 11% locally are African Americans
- 6% locally are Asian/Pacific Islanders
People of Color May be More Likely to Need Transplants
Even though we know the need for transplant affects all communities, data has shown that minority ethnic groups are more likely to need a lifesaving organ transplant. This is partially because some diseases that may lead to organ failure, such as diabetes and high blood pressure more commonly occur among diverse communities. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, “African Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders are three times more likely than Caucasians to suffer from end-stage renal disease, often as the result of high blood pressure and other conditions.”
Does Race Matter in Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation and Transplants? Can Organs be Transplanted Between People of Different Races or Ethnicity?
Although organ transplant candidates are not matched based on race or ethnicity and people of different ethnicities often match one another, transplant matches made within ethnic groups can be even more compatible and successful. That is why it is so important that more people in all communities register as organ, eye and tissue donors. The more people who register their decision to be donors, more lives can be saved and healed!
If Organs Are Not Matched Based on Race or Ethnicity, Why Can Organ Transplants Be More Compatible When Made Within the Same Ethnic Groups?
The reason: The Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA). HLA antigens are proteins found on most cells in our bodies. These antigens are inherited as a unique set from our parents and regulate the immune system. When it comes to kidney matching—the organ most needed by African American and Black candidates —HLA plays a big role. This is because HLA antigens between Caucasian and African American candidates do not match as well. Currently, African Americans make up more than 1/3 of the kidney transplant waiting list nationally, yet only around 13% of the general population. This creates a smaller pool of potential donor organs from African American donors and means that African American transplant candidates may rely on organs that do not match as well or may have to wait longer for a more suitable match.
Why Does Organ Donation Matter, and What’s the Urgency?
The answer: because someone you love may someday need a lifesaving transplant. Did you know that by increasing the number of registered donors, transplant candidates could have a better chance of receiving the gift of life? That’s right! The more diverse pool of registered donors, the more lives can be saved through donation and transplantation. And, since just one donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and save and heal more than 75 lives through tissue donation, each one of us has the potential to save and heal numerous lives. What an amazing potential impact!
What Can You Do to Help?
- Take charge of your health and help prevent kidney disease and other end-stage diseases that lead to needing a transplant
- Do the research, get the facts and discuss organ, eye and tissue donation with your loved ones and your community.
- Sign up to be an organ, eye and tissue donor and give hope to those waiting for a second chance at life by saying Yes at the DMV, or online anytime at Donate Life Colorado, or Donate Life Wyoming.
As always, thank you for your support of organ, eye and tissue donation. If you already registered as a donor, please take some time to discuss your decision with your loved ones. If you haven’t signed up yet, we encourage you to do so in honor of National Multiethnic Donor Awareness Month. One heroic decision can save and heal lives!