Did you know that on February 14th you can show love and affection to a human being whether you know them or not? In fact, there is another and very important way to give someone a piece of you and it is not because it is Valentine’s Day, but because we also observe National Donor Day (also known as National Organ Donor Day).
Often passed by, National Donor Day is a very special day to raise awareness on the importance of organ donation and its impact. As reported by the American Transplant Foundation, the only nonprofit in the United States that provides three tiers of support for living donors, transplant recipients, and their families, as of this writing, almost 114,000 people in the United States are waiting for a life-saving organ donation. With this number being so high, it is extremely necessary to highlight the stats, spread the word, and take action.
National Donor Day focuses on donations from all types; aside from organs, tissue, marrow, platelets, and blood donations are urgently needed every day. The Red Cross reports that an estimated 6.8 million people in the U.S. donate blood adding that about 45% of the whole population have Group O (positive or negative) blood, but when it comes races and ethnic groups the proportion is higher among Hispanics (57%) and African Americans (51%).
According to Donate Life, “compatible blood and tissue types are more likely to be found among members of the same ethnicity,” and approximately 19 percent of patients awaiting a life-saving organ transplant belong to the Hispanic and Latinx community.
Keeping in mind all this data, Latinos and Latinas in the United States desperately need to look into becoming a donor, especially since Hispanic Americans have the highest rates of diabetes and heart disease in the entire nation. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reported that in 2015 only 15.5 percent of Hispanics (a total of 4,804 people) received a donation compared to 17,179 of White recipients.
Among the facts about donation that we can find at the American Transplant Foundation: Every 10 minutes a name is added to the national transplant waiting list. And, unfortunately, 20 people die every day from the lack of available organs for transplant.
The nonprofit also informs us that one deceased donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation (heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, pancreas, and small intestines) and can donate tissue (corneas, skin, veins, heart valves, tendons, ligaments, and bones) to more than 100 people.
While the organ recipients are selected based on their medical need, location, and compatibility, the American Transplant Foundation calculates that over 700,000 transplants have occurred in the U.S. since 1988.
The foundation also reports that liver and kidney disease kill over 120,000 each year; the U.S Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health corroborates this statement with their data. Out of the 107,473 candidates in 2016, only 20,832 Hispanics received or were candidates to receive a kidney transplant while out of 15,021 people in the U.S. transplant waiting list only 2,586 Hispanics were candidates.
With this, we can agree that liver and kidney disease kills more people than mainstreamed and progressive diseases like Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, or prostate cancer.
Despite the risks, Hispanics seem to be hesitant about organ donation due to cultural and religious beliefs. As reported by Reuters, Mexican-Americans are less likely to donate organs. “We find that the Hispanic community tells us, ‘My religion says not to donate,’ and ‘I can’t have an open casket because the body will be damaged,’” said Esmeralda Perez of the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance. “They feel that their loved one will be disfigured, or the person will not be able to get into heaven because their body will not be whole.”
Nuvia Enriquez, a Hispanic outreach coordinator for the Donor Network of Arizona, told Reuters that they have been trying to debunk these common myths. “A lot of work that we do is to go out and try to dissolve some of these myths,” she said. “We talk to them about the Catholic Church’s position on donation, which is very positive. Pope John Paul II was actually the first pope to declare donation to be an act of love, and Pope Benedict, when he was Cardinal, was a card-carrying organ donor.”
“There is an everyday heroism, made up of gestures and sharing, big or small, which build up an authentic culture of life. A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs in a morally acceptable manner.” – Pope John Paul II.
According to the publication, the Catholic Church is also advising their congregation on the gifts of organ donation. Rev. John Leies, a Catholic theologian, is working to convince the churchgoers that organ donation does not have a negative impact in the afterlife. “The church is well aware that there are so many people waiting for organs, and there are not enough to be supplied and people die without receiving their organs,” he said. “It is difficult to fight against these cultural ideas, and maybe the church hasn’t made a good enough effort.”
Other theological groups also have their perspective on organ and tissue donation. The Amish community will consent to transplantation if it is for the well-being of the recipient. According to the General Council of the Assemblies of God, if the recipient is a Christian, and survived thanks to the organ donation, that person has the potential to continue Christian service.
In the Bahá’í Faith, there is no prohibition while Rev. Gyomay Masao, president and founder of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago, said, “We honor those people who donate their bodies and organs to the advancement of medical science and to saving lives,” according to Unos.
Whether or not you believe in the afterlife, or you follow a religion, we encourage you to think of organ donation as a genuine act of love. You can be a hero! Think of your neighbors with compassion and life will have compassion toward you.