Tennessee Donor Services staff members Peggie Henderson and Thomas Jones are going far beyond their job description, becoming Donate Life TN Ambassadors to increase donation in their communities

NASHVILLE, TN —Donate Life Tennessee plans to increase the number of registered donors in the minority community by XX percent in 2013. This strategy includes observing Minority Donor Awareness week from August 1 through 8 to educate minorities on the desperate need for organ, eye, and tissue donors. Today in America, nearly 120,000 people are waiting on a life-saving organ transplant. While minorities make up over half of those waiting on an organ (66,000), they comprised just 32 percent of the living and deceased organ donors in 2012. In Tennessee, the observance encourages people from all racial and ethnic groups to become donors by registering at www.DonateLifeTN.org.

“Our goal is to encourage organ, eye, and tissue donation through education,” said Dr. Clive O. Callender, founder of National Minority Donor Awareness Week. Dr. Callender is also the founder of the National Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP), and Professor of Surgery at Howard University Hospital. “We also teach communities the importance of creating healthy lifestyles by eating better, exercising daily, getting blood pressure checks and urine screens to help reduce the need for organ transplantation.”

Donor organs are matched for transplant according to several factors, including blood and tissue type, which can vary by ethnicity. While people of every race frequently match each other, those on the waiting list are more likely to receive transplants if more people from all backgrounds donate. “When we started this effort in 1996, we were told that minorities don’t donate organs—we’ve proven that wrong,” explains Dr. Callender. “Instead, we’ve learned that by overcoming common misconceptions and creating awareness about organ donation, communities come together and help take care of each other.”

Peggie Henderson is a “Bridge-to-Life Triage Coordinator” for Tennessee Donor Services. She knows first-hand the need for minority organ donors. “The donation process begins with us—the triage coordinators,” said Henderson, “and it makes me happy knowing that my efforts are actually saving lives.”

Minorities are disproportionately affected by illnesses, like hypertension and diabetes, which can lead to end-stage renal disease and the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant, contributing to the higher number of minority patients on the national organ transplant waiting list. Henderson’s  sister-in-law was is one of the statistics. Experiencing kidney failure, she was added to the waiting list.  Recently Henderson became a Donate Life Tennessee Ambassador, reinforcing her commitment to promoting organ donation within her community. “My sister-in-law was one of the lucky ones—she received the Gift of Life, undergoing a kidney transplant,” said Henderson. “Knowing what she went through is truly amazing!’

Thomas Jones is an Equipment Associate with Tennessee Donor Services, maintaining all equipment related to processing tissue, including emergency backup generators. “Keeping the equipment in excellent working condition and in position for processing tissue every single day is rewarding,” said Jones. “I’m motivated by my responsibility to keep the equipment dependable at all times with little-to-no exceptions,” he said, going on to explain, “ I also have a responsibility to my co-workers who depend on me so they can perform their job daily in a timely fashion.”

After only eight months at TDS, Jones was faced with helping his own family make the decision of whether to donate life. “My cousin passed away quickly from a brain aneurism. He had a headache and the next thing you know, he’s being rushed to the hospital.” While the passing of his cousin has been tough, Jones is glad that he played an instrumental role in encouraging his family to make the decision to donate his cousin’s organs. “So many people in my community pass away with the ability to donate, but don’t,” said Jones. “They are very closed-minded about it because they believe the myth: ‘they will let me die just to get my organs,’” Jones explains.

With a renewed commitment to organ donation awareness, Thomas made the decision to become a Donate Life TN Ambassador to help strengthen its reach into minority communities. “I plan to help overcome the myths by getting out and educating others with accurate information on the donation process—and explaining how it saves and enhances lives,” said Jones. He has already been successful, registering 12 new donors at a recent community event. “I also have two family members currently experiencing kidney failure,” he said. “They are on dialysis, hoping to possibly to get a kidney one day through donation.” He concludes, “This has become more personal to me than just a job. It’s my obligation to the community.”

Some of the facts people need to know about organ, eye, and tissue donation include:

  • Doctors will do everything they can to save a person’s life, sworn to this commitment by Hippocratic Oath.
  • The transplant team is involved only after exhausting all efforts to save the individual’s life.
  • Matching recipients with donor organs involves factors such as blood and tissue types, body size, severity of the illness, time on the waiting list, and distance from the donor.
  • Ethnicity, wealth, and fame are never part of the matching process.
  • Most major religions in the U.S. support organ donation and view it as an act of kindness.
  • In 2012, 11,309 minority patients received organ transplants.
  • However, precisely 2,762 minorities donated their organs in 2012.

To register as a donor or for more information about how to get involved please visit www.DonateLifeTN.org or call 888-234-4440.

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Tennessee Donor Services is part of the DCI Donor Services (DCIDS) family of companies that includes the DCI Donor Services Tissue Bank, DCI Donor Services Eye Banks along with New Mexico Donor Services, Sierra Donor Services – additional organ procurement organizations in New Mexico, and California. TDS is an integral part of the communities served for nearly four decades where dedicated professionals share a mission to save and enhance lives through donation and transplantation. The DCIDS family provides opportunities for organ, eye and tissue donation and facilitates the recovery and transplantation of these gifts.