If you didn’t know, August is National Multicultural Donor Awareness Month (NMDAM). Nevada Donor Network’s goal is to share that acceptance, diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of what we do. Saving and healing lives through organ, eye and tissue donation is all about hope. When one heroic donor says ‘YES’ to donation, recipients around the world can have the second chance they desperately need.
Currently, in the United States, 60% of those waiting for an organ transplant are from a multicultural background. In 2021, nearly 20,000 organ transplants were received by multicultural recipients. While the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) states that transplants can be successful regardless of the race or ethnicity of the donor and recipient, the chance of longer-term survival may be greater if the donor and recipient are closely matched in terms of their shared genetic background. Successful transplantation is often enhanced by the matching of organs between members of the same ethnic and racial group. What does this mean? Representation across all multicultural communities’ matters. This is what the current United States Organ Transplant Waitlist looks like based on ethnicity:
After fighting breast cancer in 2001 and again in 2008, Bernice Lopez was ready to support the cause and show her community how hard she fought to beat it. Bernice participated in a breast cancer charity walk, which ended up sending her to the emergency room, when she found out the “asthma” she was suffering from for two months was instead Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). The chemotherapy she received for her breast cancer was too strong for her body and damaged her heart. Local cardiologists did all they could for the next four years until her heart declined to the point where her ejection fraction (EF) was at 25%. After much discussion with her insurance company and many transplant centers in California, it was decided her cardiac care would be transferred to Loma Linda University, 15 minutes from her hometown and family. Bernice made monthly trips for doctor visits and was able to see her family during this time while getting the care she needed. Bernice’s heart seemed to be maintaining until suddenly she had an episode. It was determined her heart had declined to the point that she needed to be listed for a heart transplant. Bernice received a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) before being listed, which is considered a ‘bridge to transplant’. It was a life-changing moment! Bernice was able to regain the energy and function she had seven years earlier. She had her LVAD for four and a half years before being listed for a heart transplant. Bernice was called 20 days after she was listed and told to come to the hospital. Her entire family filled the waiting room and the transplant floor wearing ‘Lopez Strong’ family reunion t-shirts they had made the month before. She had the quilt her cousin made of the ‘girl in the moon’ with the pictures of her ancestors that had passed away sewn on to the back of it. As the transplant team took her into the surgery room, her mom, who had been delayed due to traffic, was able to share a quick prayer with her. Unbeknownst to her family, Bernice’s dad was leading the family in the waiting room in prayer at the same time. On August 13, 2019, she received her gift of life from an anonymous donor in the Sacramento, California area. She is forever grateful! Bernice has lived to see both of her sons graduate high school and now can hike, when before, she couldn’t walk ten steps without stopping for a breath. She took her first solo trip to New York in December and is in the process of planning a two week, 12 state road trip! This is all possible because of one heroic donor who said ‘yes.’ Bernice feels truly blessed.
Did you know there were 4,714 donor heroes in 2021 from a multicultural background? When one person says ‘YES’ to organ, eye and tissue donation, they make the gift of life possible for eight people through organ donation. They also make the gift of healing possible for 75 or more through tissue donation, including the potential gift of sight for two others through cornea donation.
Renee is one of those heroes. She was the true definition of a superhero, a fighter and incredibly strong. Renee was also very loving and caring. In 2017, when her health started to decline, she was in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation centers. From having countless surgeries and beating the odds, she always managed to keep a smile on her face. Renee was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2007. From there she started dialysis and continued to do her treatments until her death in May of 2020. Renee was the go-to person you could always count on for advice or just someone to talk to. No matter the day or time, she was always there for everyone. Sometimes, her daughter, Sharnee, would walk into her hospital room and find the doctors or nurses just sitting around talking to her, as if they had known each other for years. That always would put a smile on Sharnee’s face and brought her peace knowing that she was in good care. Renee loved nature, including birds, trees, lakes and more, but most importantly she loved her family. Her daughter Sharnee, her granddaughter Sa’Jada and her significant other of twenty-six years, Len, meant so much to her. Her granddaughter Sa’Jada was her heartbeat, and they were inseparable, often nicknamed ‘two peas in a pod.’ In 2020, Renee’s health started to decline, and in the early hours of May 26th, Renee passed away peacefully on her daughter, Sharnee’s birthday. Unfortunately, Len passed away later in 2020 as well. Sharnee feels incredibly proud to know her mother was a heroic donor and is still able to help people the way she always had. Her granddaughter and daughter miss her terribly. Sometimes, it still feels unreal to them that she is gone. Renee will always be remembered for her bravery and strength and will forever be missed.
Nevada Donor Network is proud to illustrate why this observance is so important to us. We have a shared understanding that there is unity in diversity. We are stronger together.
Would you like to be #BeAHeroLikeRenee? Did Bernice’s story inspire you? Register here!