Raising Awareness for Minorities and Organ Donation

Aug. 1 is National Minority Organ Donor Awareness Day. Health advocates use the occasion to raise awareness of the need for donors. Dr. Clive Callender, head of the National Minority Organ and Tissue Transplant Education Program, speaks with Ed Gordon.

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ED GORDON, host:

Joining me now from Washington, DC, is Dr. Clive Callender, head of the National Minority Organ and Tissue Transplant Education Program.

Dr. Callender, good to have you with us. Always good to talk to you.

Dr. CLIVE CALLENDER (National Minority Organ and Tissue Transplant Education Program): Thanks.

GORDON: Doctor, let me ask you this, and I think I know the answer to it already, but you've been doing this for quite some time, and while we've seen awareness grow, I'm sure it's not at the point where you would like it. Are there any times that you sit back and think perhaps you're fighting a losing battle in terms of trying to get people aware of the importance of this?

Dr. CALLENDER: Just the opposite. For example, I have some data that I just looked at that really excites me, and it shows that in 1996, there were a number of donors, minority donors, that was in the vicinity of 121, and that now, that number has doubled, so that that's the deceased donors. And at the same time period, the number of living donors who are minorities has doubled. So it looks like we're making a big difference, finally. We've been working at it a long time, but now it looks like we're seeing the fruits of our labor, and minority donation rates now are at or above the percentage of the population. Now that's never happened before.

GORDON: I know early on, you fought misconceptions about donating organs from the minority community, religious and personal taboos and the like. Are you still finding that to be the main issue...

Dr. CALLENDER: Yes.

GORDON: ...that is what is most problematic?

Dr. CALLENDER: Yes. We've found that strategizing to overcome those obstacles has been very successful. We identified, of course, that the lack of information, religious misperceptions, a distrust of health care providers, racism and fear of premature declaration of death were the five most common obstacles that needed to be overcome. And we actually have strategized and actually have overcome, in many instances, those obstacles to organ and tissue donation.

GORDON: One of the things that we often miss are preventative measures, if you will, and part of the problem is the lifestyle you lead leading up to the need for transplant that is most problematic in our community.

Dr. CALLENDER: Well, you know, that's one of the most important things that you could ever mention, and that is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so that national MOTTEP has its goals to decrease the incidence of end-stage renal disease and the need for transplants. So healthy lifestyles, eating better, exercising daily, pushing back from the table, getting the blood pressure checked, getting urine screens are just as important as leaving organs and tissues in life and after death.

GORDON: After you have enlightened a group of people, what do you hear most often from them after the fact?

Dr. CALLENDER: What I hear most from them is that once they are aware that it actually impacts upon them and their loved ones, that they have a different perspective now and a different outlook. And I think that's the major reason that we've been successful, that we have addressed the selfish needs of people and helped them to see how that what we're doing actually helps them as well as helping others.

GORDON: In terms of MOTTEP, the Minority Organ and Tissue Transplant Education Program, you're taking it around to groups, organizations, quite frankly, the country by extension, and trying to impart knowledge. Are you finding that the younger generation walks in the door knowing a little more?

Dr. CALLENDER: Yes, finally, and one of the most interesting things as we've seen the numbers double is that we recognize that it's not only awareness campaigns, but it's grassroots community education and empowerment that together with the awareness campaigns makes the difference, because as I've looked at awareness campaigns across the country and the world, it's clear that that grass-roots education community effort added to the awareness campaign is what makes the difference.

GORDON: Well, Dr. Clive Callender, you've been on the front lines for a long time, and we appreciate that you're there alerting our community and quite frankly, the world about a very important program. Dr. Clive Callender, thank you so much.

Dr. CALLENDER: Thank you for having me.

GORDON: Dr. Clive Callender, head of the National Minority Organ and Tissue Transplant Education Program. Dr. Callender also chairs the Department of Surgery at the Howard University College of Medicine.

Coming up, a Republican breaks ranks with the president on stem cell research, and debt collection agencies that won't take no for an answer. Those are two of the issues on today's Roundtable.

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