HED:Organ donors needed

CATEGORY: HTH Health

AUTHOR: MITCHE

HED:Organ donors needed

By Lena Mitchell

The Daily Journal

When Greg Shelton of Corinth celebrates his 22nd chronological birthday Feb. 17, it will be a very special occasion.

More special in his mother Linda Shelton’s eyes is the rebirth he celebrated Feb. 3, the fifth anniversary of his kidney transplant.

Carefree days throwing a baseball with his friends, playing a pickup game of basketball, riding his bicycle or just taking a long walk were cut short for Greg at age 11.

With a diagnosis of kidney disease Greg was bound to 12-hour-a-day sessions on a kidney dialysis machine for five long years.

“The problem was discovered when the nurse at school took his blood pressure and it was up,” says Linda Shelton, an employee at Kimberly-Clark in Corinth. “We went to several doctors before a kidney biopsy showed he had kidney disease. The doctor said it could have been the result of an accident a year before when Greg was hit by a car while riding his bicycle.”

But Greg’s story, unlike many others, took a happy turn when a kidney match became available and he received a transplant in 1993.

The need for lifesaving minority donors is as great for organ and bone marrow donation as it is for blood.

“I was tested and was a match for him, but because I am a single parent, the doctor thought it would be better to wait and see if we could get a cadaver match,” Shelton says. “That way, if it failed I’d still be available. If he used my kidney first and it failed, there wouldn’t be a backup.”

The match came from someone who died, but Shelton says they don’t have direct knowledge of who it was. They were only permitted to send a Christmas card to the family a few times before they were asked to discontinue sending them.

Though Greg will continue to be on medications for blood pressure, organ rejection, stomach ulcers and other possible complications the rest of his life, the freedom and normalcy of the life he has now is far-removed from the school-to-dialysis-to-school routine he lived with for so many years.

At 6 feet 2 inches tall and about 195 pounds, Greg was spared the stunted growth and bloated weight that often accompanies kidney transplant in young patients and its resulting medications.

“I’m in my last semester at Northeast studying to be a machinist,” Greg says with quiet confidence. “I’m also working part-time and very active at my church.”

Greg had to undergo another surgery two years ago to straighten his left leg where the bones had weakened and curved due to calcium loss resulting from his numerous medications. As he showed how well the surgery had worked, his mother spotted a new bruise.

“I got that in a game of basketball yesterday,” Greg said, sneaking a peak at her expression. “I don’t usually show her the bumps and bruises because she worries about everything.”

As an African American, statistics show that even if Greg’s renal failure was not caused by an accident, he had a high probability of developing kidney disease anyway.

According to the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency, African Americans with high blood pressure are 17 times more prone to kidney failure than Caucasians.

Nearly 80 percent of patients waiting for kidney transplants in Mississippi are African American.

Education is key

“We think the solution to the organ and tissue shortage is twofold,” says Patrice V. Miles, project director for the National Minority Organ and Tissue Transplant Education Program in Washington.

“Our goal is to increase minority participation in donor programs and to decrease the number of people added to organ donation waiting lists though health promotion and education to change lifestyles.”

The makers of Saturn automobiles will launch a National Donor Day Saturday, Feb. 14, Miles says. Their effort will include encouraging people to sign donor cards, donate blood and join the bone marrow registry.

“The dealerships are doing different things,” Miles says. “Some of them are teaming up with other organizations like florists and giving a free rose to people who participate.”

Miles and Charlotte Mullinnix of the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency agree that the key is education.

“Part of our problem is that minorities aren’t always given the option,” Mullinnix says. “I believe there is a misconception among physicians so they don’t always give them an option. I’ve had physicians say to me `Minorities don’t donate, so don’t bother them.’ “

Mullinnix says her personal experience has been just the opposite. She has worked with minority families who have donated organs, but believes more vigorous awareness campaigns are needed.

“One thing we’ve learned is how important it is to get out into the community and talk to people face to face,” Miles says. “They’re more apt to ask questions then and get all the facts to make their decision.”

Death wish?

However, Miles does concede that African Americans may harbor some myths about organ and tissue donation as objections to donating.

*MYTH: Most religions do not support organ and tissue donation.

TRUTH: All major religions, including Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim, support organ and tissue donation.

*MYTH: Organ or tissue donation will disfigure the body.

TRUTH: Organ and tissue donation will not disfigure the body or delay the funeral. A person who has donated may still have an open casket funeral.

*MYTH: There is a charge to donate.

TRUTH: Donated organs and tissues are a gift. There is no charge to the family of the donor.

*MYTH: If physicians know the patient has signed a donor card they will not do everything possible to save the patient’s life.

TRUTH: A transplant team does not become involved until other physicians involved in the patient’s care have determined that all possible efforts to save the patient’s life have failed.

*MYTH: Organs donated by minorities will go to whites.

Truth: More minorities will get transplants.

Tell family members

Mullinnix recommends discussing the decision to become an organ or tissue donor with family members because they must give consent for organ donation after your death.

After a death is the most difficult time for family members to make a decision, so let family members know ahead of time what your wishes are in the even of your death. It is also helpful to discuss the decision with your family attorney.

Mississippi offers individuals the option to indicate on their driver’s license that they wish to be a donor. However, organ and tissue donor agencies will not act without permission of the next-of-kin of the donor, even if they have signed a donor card.

Bone marrow donation

Certain organ donations, such as kidney, part of a liver from an adult to a child, or part of a lung or pancreas, can be done while the donor is still alive.

Bone marrow is another livesaving donation taken from a living donor.

Marrow makes blood cells and is produced inside the larger bones of the body. It can be removed with a special syringe, and donated to patients who need it for life-threatening illnesses like leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, inherited immune system disorders, severe aplastic anemia and others.

Donating marrow does not affect your health, and it replaces itself in just a few weeks.

Antigens, the proteins that boost the immune system, and antibodies, the proteins that fight infection, are inherited traits. Some characteristics of marrow type are unique to African Americans, and the more African American donors the more likely a match can be found for another African American.

The National Marrow Donor Program recruits volunteers to be listed in its national registry as potential donors.

Initially a small sample of blood is taken from the volunteer donor and is tested for tissue type. The information is then entered under a code number on the NMDP registry.

You remain on the registry, and at any time in the future may be contacted if you are identified as a potential match.

Where to Go, Call or Write

For more information about donating blood, signing a donor card for organ and tissue donation or signing up for the bone marrow registry:

*Blood: United Blood Services, 4326 S. Eason Blvd., Tupelo, 842-8871

*Organ and Tissue: Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency, 1-800-362-6169 or 1-800-933-1000

*Bone Marrow: National Bone Marrow Registry, 1-800-627-7692