Jamaica woman pushes for more organ donor applicants

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National Minority Organ Donor Awareness Day Aug. 1 highlighted the great need for minority organ donors, especially from areas like Queens, which has a 60.3 percent non-white population.

“[There] continues to be a misconception of the need in the minority community,” said CEO and President of the New York Organ Donor Network Elaine Berg. “This is an area where the best medicine cannot help people unless there is an altruistic human being — someone who would decide that it would be a good thing to save lives.”

Jamaica resident Trisha White, 29, came from Guyana with her mother and sister to Queens when she was 12 due to kidney damage from a medication overdose. When she was 15 she received her first kidney transplant from her mother.

But eight years later, her body rejected the kidney and she was put on dialysis. Most kidney transplants last 17 years.

White then spent two years handling immigration issues that affected her insurance before she was placed on the organ transplant waiting list.

“The medication after the transplant is very expensive,” she said.

After six years on dialysis, White was able to obtain a second kidney July 11 from a 4-year-old boy who had died prematurely.

“It’s much better for people to get a transplant than dialysis. The mortality on dialysis is 10 to 20 percent a year,” said White’s surgeon, Michael Goldstein, director of kidney and pancreas transplantation at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan.

Despite having excellent doctors and hospitals, the New York Organ Donor Network reported that only 16 percent of New Yorkers over 18 are registered organ donors, as opposed to 41 percent nationwide. As a result, the average New York City organ recipient must wait 49 months for a transplant, far longer than the rest of the nation for which the average waiting time is 29 months.

Of 111,757 people in the nation waiting for transplants, about 50 percent are minorities. In particular, black Americans have the greatest need for transplants, especially kidney transplants, accounting for about 34 percent of the waiting list.

But fewer than 30 percent of donors are minorities, with only 13 percent black donors.

Berg said she hoped that more minorities, especially blacks, would register to donate their organs to reduce the disproportional representation.

“Don’t screen yourself out. Everyone should consider themselves a potential organ donor,” she said.

Registration can be completed when renewing a driver’s license or online at the New York Organ Donor Network website

Reach reporter Evelyn Cheng by phone at 718-260-4524.

Updated 11:09 am, October 12, 2011
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