Until recently, Christopher, a teacher at Sylvan Hills Middle School in southeast Atlanta, was one of 35,000 African Americans waiting for a kidney transplant in the U.S. When Smith, principal at Maybury Elementary School in Columbus, stepped forward to be her living organ donor, it cut her wait time down from an average of four or five years to just a few, short months. Minority Donor Awareness Week starts Thursday and ends Aug. 7.
Christopher, who had been getting dialysis three times a week for four years, was delighted to hear her brother was a match and was equally as excited to be free of dialysis.
“The dialysis alone lowers your energy level,” she said. “Add working full-time to that and I was just exhausted. I would leave school at the end of the day and go straight to the clinic. Sometimes, I wouldn’t leave the clinic until 10 p.m. Then, early the next morning, I would have to be back at school again.”
For Smith, choosing to donate his kidney was the clear answer to helping his sister feel better again. When he learned that his sister needed a kidney, he jumped at the opportunity without hesitation.
“People would say to me, ‘Well, you know the surgery is harder on the donor than it is for the person receiving the kidney, right?’” Smith said. “At first, I thought if I was going to feel anything, it was because I was losing an organ but, as it turned out, I went home the very next day. I’ve had foot surgery that was much more painful.”
This myth and others surrounding living organ donation are exactly what Smith and Christopher are trying to address in an effort to raise awareness about the growing need for minority living organ donors.
“I think there is a fear factor in the African American community,” said Christopher. “People are just afraid of organ donation and, as a result, they don’t want to do it. I believe education is key for more people to come forward and donate…especially for their family members.”
Currently, there are nearly 97,000 people in the U.S. waiting for a kidney transplant. Due to a shortage of donors and complications with compatibility, only a small percentage of those people will end up receiving a transplant, and the wait can take years. Living organ donation reduces the time a person waits for a kidney and, often times, the kidney lasts considerably longer when it comes from a living donor.
To learn more about becoming a living organ donor, visit www.piedmonttransplant.org.