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Closing the organ donation racial gap: 'People die waiting'

Closing Virginia's organ donation racial gap: 'People die waiting'
Posted at 7:03 PM, Aug 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-17 14:11:57-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Large racial disparities among Virginia organ donors have kept some patients on the organ transplant waiting list for years, while others never get the call that a life-saving match was found. LifeNet, a nonprofit that works with people in need of new organs, wants to renew hope by putting a spotlight on National Multi-Ethnic Donation Awareness Month.

"I’ve been waiting for this call for seven years now. I’m kind of losing hope," Darrell Jackson, who is in need of a kidney donation, said.

While he waits for a donation, his life revolves around dialysis four hours a day, three times a week. 

"It’s just hard on you," he said. "Hard on your body. Hard on your mind."

CJ Richardson knows the angst Jackson and others feel as they wait for a kidney match.

The Richmond-area comedian and community activist is also a kidney transplant recipient.

He recently shared a video on social media, celebrating seven years since a donor saved his life. The video stressed the importance of organ donation.  

Richardson said he understood the significant racial disparities among organ donors in Virginia.

According to LifeNet Health, while African Americans make up 19 percent of Virginia’s population, they represent 50 percent of the patients on the state’s organ transplant waiting list. 

"The need is this, there are people waiting on the list and unfortunately people die waiting," Kia Potts, with LifeNet Health, said.

Potts said family members of potential African American donors are less likely to consent to their loved one being a donor and African American majority geographical areas show significantly lower levels of donor registrations.

She and Richardson, who uses his comedy platform to raise awareness about organ donation, said the best thing to do is to talk about it.

"There are multiple ways you can give life. Doesn’t have to be a deceased donor. You can be a living donor. I’m constantly saying all the time, we have to educate our people," Richardson said. "We have to make it a household conversation. A day-to-day conversation. Doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable conversation to discuss organ donation, which it is in some homes and communities, that’s why the numbers are so low."

By spreading knowledge, LifeNet hopes more donors will sign up and make a life-saving difference. 

"Any opportunity that there is community, there is a place to talk and have a conversation, that’s where we want to be," Potts said. "We want to build trust in the community and want them to know we are trying to save lives restore health and give hope."

To become an organ donor, you can go to your closest DMV or register here. If you want to see if you’re a match for Darrell Jackson, it’s as simple as contacting his care team at VCU Medical Center. 

This story was originally published by WTVR in Richmond, Virginia.