Honoring Hispanic Organ Donors
West Sac Mayor Martha Guerrero, President and CEO of Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Cathy Rodriguez; and Sierra Donor Services Executive Director Sean Van Slyck. Photo provided by Michele Townsend
WEST SACRAMENTO, CA (MPG) - On Wednesday, September 15, 2021, a small service was held at Sierra Donor Services and Donate Headquarters, located at 3940 Industrial Blvd, West Sacramento. This service was to honor the generosity of Hispanic organ, eye and tissue donors, for Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15. Speakers included Sierra Donor Services Executive Director, Sean Van Slyck; Eye Bank Director, Sam Ramos; West Sacramento Mayor, Martha Guerrero; President of Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce, Megan Morgan; as well as representatives of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the West Sacramento Chamber of Commerce. Sierra Donor Services (SDS) is the designated organ procurement organization (OPO) that is partnered with the Sacramento Region hospitals.
The SDS raised a special flag, made to honor the Hispanic donors and their families. Currently over 20,000 people in California are waiting for a life saving organ transplant and over 40 percent of those are Hispanic. Last year, over 4,500 transplant surgeries were performed in California and roughly 40 percent of those were also Hispanic. Those same percentages are consistent with the National numbers. So why are such a high percentage of patients needing a transplant of Hispanic decent?
According to SDS, people in multicultural and minority communities have disproportionately higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, which lead to organ failure, especially kidneys. In addition, SDS says that genetics play a part. Transplants can be successful regardless of race or ethnicity. However the chance of acceptance and of long term survival is greater if the donor and recipient are closely matched. This includes a family member or someone of a shared genetic background.
Out of the 115,000 men, women and children in the United States that are waiting for an organ transplant, 80 percent of those are in need of a kidney and 12 percent of those are waiting for a liver. Both of these organs can be donated by a live donor. The average waiting time for a kidney from a deceased donor is 3 – 5 years. If a live donor is a match and donates a kidney, the remaining kidney from that donor will enlarge in order to do the work of both kidneys. This will also happen with the recipient’s kidney. A portion of a liver may also be donated from a live donor, as well as partial lung, intestine and pancreas donation.
The body is an absolutely amazing machine and many parts of our body will either regenerate or adapt. Organs that have been successfully transplanted include the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, intestines and pancreas. Each of these surgeries is life saving transplants. It’s not only organs that can be transplanted. Cornea transplants may allow someone to regain their sight, tendons can rebuild joints, and heart valves can repair cardiac defects in a heart that is still working. Veins re-establish circulation which could mean the difference between life and death of any part of your body. Skin can be transplanted, or grafted, to heal burn patients. Bones and bone marrow can prevent an amputation and may help fight leukemia.
Yes, many of these surgeries can only take place after someone has died or has no sign of brain life. The patient must be declared clinically and legally dead. Doctors work very hard to save every life they can, but sometimes a person may have sustained a severe brain injury from an accident, a stroke or some other reason for lack of oxygen and the brain dies. If that patient is a registered donor, they are then put on artificial life support in order to keep the other organ viable. The bodies are treated with respect and if any organs can be used the OPO will inform the family. All major religions support donation as a final act of compassion and generosity.
The SDS says that the best way to avoid becoming in need of an organ donation, yourself, is to have your blood pressure checked regularly, exercise regularly, limit foods high in salt, cholesterol and saturated fats (such as fried foods) and to visit your doctor once a year and get tested for diabetes and other illnesses that can lead to organ failure. If you are interested in the opportunity of saving a life by seeing if you are a match for someone, as a live donor, the process is a little different. Being a live donor is not included in your regular donor registration.
For more information about possibly becoming a live donor, visit DoneVida.org. And if you are not yet a registered organ donor, simply pick up the small form at any DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), fill it out and turn it in to DMV. You will get the pink dot sticker that will go on your license or ID, and the next time you get it renewed, it will be included in the printing of your ID or license.