Guest Columnist: Celebrate National Donate Life Month and National Blue & Green Day

My name is Sonya Callahan, and I am a second semester full-time graduate student at Kent State pursuing a Master of Education in Community Health Education and Promotion. Prior to graduate school, I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Services Administration. In February 2015, I accepted a new position as the Teen Summit Program Coordinator for Cleveland MOTTEP, which is the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education program. I am responsible for coordinating the biannual Healthy Teens Healthy Tomorrow summits, which is a community partnership amongst Cleveland MOTTEP, Kidney Foundation of Ohio, Lifebanc, Eversight Ohio and The Case Western Reserve University Center for Reducing Health Disparities. The summits take place at Cuyahoga Community College Eastern Campus, and the purpose is to empower minority teens within Greater Cleveland to make healthy and positive lifestyle choices, learn about college preparation and careers in healthcare and understand the importance of becoming an organ, eye and tissue donor. Prior to Cleveland MOTTEP, I was the Community Services Associate for Lifebanc, which is the organ procurement organization for Northeast Ohio, for almost eight and a half years. At Lifebanc, I conducted community outreach and educational programs about organ, eye and tissue donation, as well as encouraged and registered individuals on the Ohio Donor Registry.

Currently in the U.S., there are nearly 125,000 men, women and children in need of an organ transplant as stated by Lifebanc. A kidney is the number one organ that is needed for more than 100,000 people waiting, and a liver is the second organ that is needed with more than 15,000 people waiting, as indicated by the U.S. department of Health and Human Services. According to Lifebanc, every 10 minutes, a new name is being added to the national transplant waiting list, and 21 people die daily due to the shortage of available organs.

Minorities comprise about 20 percent of the U.S. population but represent 54 percent of those who are waiting for organ transplants. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans only make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population but are in dire need of kidney transplants, due to higher incidences of kidney disease resulting from high blood pressure and diabetes. Obesity is also a factor, as stated by Donate Life Ohio. As of March 27, 2015, there was a total of 40,506 African Americans in need of all organ transplants (heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and small intestines) and 37,389 of them require a kidney transplant alone, as found in a study by the U.S. department of Health and Human Services. Although minorities donate, it is not enough to meet the critical need and some may be reluctant to register because of religious beliefs, mistrust of the medical community, racism, fear of premature death and lack of awareness as Donate Life Ohio stated.

While organs are not matched according to race/ethnicity, individuals of various races often match one another and all individuals waiting for an organ transplant will have a better chance of receiving one if there are larger numbers of donors from their racial/ethnic background. The U.S. department of Health and Human Services additionally stated that a greater diversity of donors might potentially increase access to transplantation for everyone who is waiting.

Each year in the month of April, I celebrate National Donate Life month as well as National Donate Life Blue & Green Day, which will be on Friday, April 17. National Donate Life month was established by Donate Life America to set aside an entire month of local, regional and national activities to help encourage Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and to celebrate those that have been saved or healed through the gift of donation, according to Donate Life Ohio. National Donate Life Blue & Green Day, according to Donate Life Ohio, is a united effort in which legislators, newscasters, corporations, hospital employees, schools and community residents wear blue and green to demonstrate their support of organ, eye and tissue donation and National Donate Life Month. I request your help to inspire as well as set an example for your community by joining me in this effort with hopes of generating local and national attention to this critical issue. Furthermore, I urge you to have a discussion with your family and friends about the urgent need of obtaining more donors. Thank you in advance with your efforts to assist me with saving and healing lives by encouraging others to register as an organ, eye and tissue donors. For more information about organ, eye and tissue donation, please refer to Lifebanc’s website at www.lifebanc.org.

Sincerely,

Sonya D. Callahan, CAP-OM, B.S.

Contact Sonya D. Callahan at [email protected]