Racial disparities in health: Minorities make up more than half waiting for an organ transplant

Taking Action

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — COVID-19 has shed a light on racial disparities in health as the virus disproportionately impacts the Black community. Now, 8News has uncovered those health inequities carry over when you look at who is on the wait list for an organ transplant. 

Nobody knows that better than Richmond resident CJ Richardson. The Richmond comedian and athlete learned during a required physical for sports that he was going to need a new kidney.

“He informed me that my kidneys were functioning at about 15%. I was startled. I was like 15%,” Richardson told 8News.

The Richmonder admits he had only gone to the doctor because it was required to play football. He says, “A lot of men you know, a lot of Black men I would say, we don’t go to the doctor because everything is going to be OK. I am macho.” 

Richardson say the news also threw him because he thought he was living a healthy life. 

“No smoking, no drinking, tried to eat right, stay healthy and when I got that information, I was shocked,” he explained.

Yet, Richardson’s health news is not that rare, according to Anne Paschke with UNOS, the United Network For Organ Sharing.

“Black people are actually four times more likely than white people to have end stage kidney disease,” Paschke said.

Richardson spent four years waiting for a kidney until suddenly the phone rang in the middle on the night. He says, “They was like ah, we have a kidney for you. It’s from a deceased donor. You’re a match. Would you take it? And I am thinking yeah, I’ll take it!”

Black Americans like Richardson make up the largest group of minorities in Virginia in need of an organ transplant. Nationally minorities make up about 60% of the people currently on the transplant wait list. Yet in 2019, only 32% of organ donors were minorities.

Those numbers concern Roanoke resident Tommy Page. “It is kind of like she is giving still in the process,” he says about his daughter. Page lost his 19-year-old daughter Ta’shona earlier this year.

“Just being a teenager hanging out with her friends and an accident happened,” he said. What helps Page with his grief is knowing his daughter was an organ donor. She saved four lives.

“Knowing what she was able to give and how other people now are living are because of her donation, it definitely helps to process it,” he said.

UNOS, which is the nation’s transplant system and based in Richmond, told 8News donor recipients are not matched based on race. However, the chances of finding a match and having a successful transplant increase when both share genetic background.

“There is a greater chance when we are matching kidneys that you match with somebody of a similar ethnicity,” says Paschke.

Both Richardson and Page encourage others in their communities to seriously consider registering to become an organ donor.

“It is imperative right now that you at least have the conversation,” said Page. Richardson, who is feeling good five years after his transplant, knows he wouldn’t be here today if someone hadn’t donated. 

“UNOS and that little box on your driver’s license that says I am an organ donor, the two of them save lives and I am living proof,” he said.

You can register to become an organ donor at the Virginia DMV. You can learn how here. August is National Minority Donor Awareness Month, you can find more information about organ donation and the process here.

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