Aug. 1-7 is National Minority Donor Awareness Week, making today a perfect time to consider the growing need for organ donations — and specifically kidney donations — within minority populations. About 79 people each day receive organ transplants, but 18 people on the waiting list die each day because there aren’t enough donated organs available.
When my father was diagnosed with kidney failure in the mid-1990s, I had no idea of the impact that kidney disease would have on me and my family. My sister and I decided to get tested to see if we could donate a kidney to our father, and luck had it that I was a match. In September 2001, I donated one of my kidneys to him, preventing him from going on dialysis. Unfortunately, my kidney was rejected in 2007 and he went on dialysis until his death in 2012. Although my father had one of my kidneys for only six years, I will never regret the choice I made to better his quality of his life and give him the gift of normalcy for a bit longer.
Today, more than 615,000 Americans are living with kidney failure. They have only two options for survival: dialysis treatment or kidney transplant. Because so few kidneys are available for transplants, most Americans with kidney failure — more than 430,000 — rely on dialysis treatments three times weekly to stay alive.
A kidney transplant can dramatically improve a patient’s quality of life compared to being on dialysis; however, there are just not enough kidneys available to meet the demand. More than 100,000 Americans are waiting for a kidney today, and although minorities make up just 36 percent of the U.S. population, over half of all patients on the U.S. organ transplant wait list are minorities.
Clearly, among minorities, the need for kidney transplants is disproportionately high, so donations are essential. The likelihood of finding a match is greater when the donated kidney comes from someone of the same racial or ethnic background. That’s because compatible blood types and tissue markers are critical for matching donors and recipients, and compatible blood types and tissue markers are more likely to be found among members of the same ethnicity. With more minority donors, there will be greater access to transplants for all patients.
Our community needs to work together to help our friends and family in need. As I have learned, organ donation is a health concern that extends well beyond a single week in August. In the D.C. metro area, the rates of kidney failure are well above the national average, so it’s time to consider organ donation.
There are two ways to become a donor. First, some people choose to become living donors, like I did for my father. We only need one healthy kidney to live a normal life. A living donor has made the incredible decision to donate a kidney to a family member, friend or even to a total stranger. The second option, which is simple and straightforward, is to register to donate your tissue and organs, including your kidneys, following your death.
Giving a healthy kidney changed my life father’s life. I encourage you to visit organdonor.gov today to learn more about organ donation and register to become an organ donor.
Learn more about kidney disease and its impact on minority populations at www.kidneyfund.org.
Tanisha Ashford is from Upper Marlboro. Her fiance, Tony Simms, also has kidney disease, and together they fight kidney disease as patient-advocates for the American Kidney Fund.