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by Abigail Van Buren

Minority Organ Donors Are Encouraged to Stay Healthy

DEAR ABBY: For many years, there has been much discussion about the need for more organ/tissue donors. The death of the Chicago Bears football great Walter Payton, who had a rare liver disease that could have been treated if an organ had been found and a liver transplant performed early on, should heighten awareness. With this particular disease, if an organ is not found and a liver transplant is not performed, the disease can result in cancer, at which time a person cannot receive a transplant.

With new names being added to the national waiting list and 12 people dying each day waiting for an organ transplant, will there ever be enough organs to help those who need them?

The National Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP) has taken a different approach to help with this problem. First, we educate communities about the diseases and lifestyles that cause people to need transplants in the first place. This includes high blood pressure, diabetes, not eating healthy meals, drinking alcohol, using drugs and not going to the doctor at least once a year for a checkup. If people adopted healthier lifestyles, the number of people who need a transplant would be fewer.

Also, when comparing the number of healthy organs to the number of unsuitable organs of persons who wish to be donors, it is clear that healthier lifestyles would greatly improve the chances for people to donate healthy organs. This would ultimately result in more lives being saved. In many cities, we offer blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose (for diabetes) screenings, and distribute prevention information to encourage people to take better care of themselves.

Second, we show the community that they can be a part of the solution by giving them an opportunity to plan and participate in activities that help others learn about the importance of organ and tissue donation. Also, those who have received transplants or donated a loved one's organs share their stories -- because the best way to educate people is to make sure they hear the message over and over again.

National MOTTEP has programs in 15 cities across the country. Each program works with schools, faith communities, shopping malls, beauty salons, barber shops and other community organizations to educate others about the need to become organ and tissue donors.

Most recently, National MOTTEP developed a Sports Council for Transplantation, which is being spearheaded by basketball Hall of Fame member Oscar Robertson. The purpose of the Sports Council is to gain the support of athletes, coaches and sports journalists to increase organ and tissue donations among minorities.

National MOTTEP was created to increase the number of African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and Alaska Natives who sign donor cards, have family discussions and become donors. There are more than 65,000 men, women and children on the national transplant waiting list. Almost half of them are minorities.

It is not only important to get more individuals to become organ and tissue donors, it is equally important to make sure these same people take care of themselves and live healthier lifestyles so they won't end up on the transplant waiting list. -- CLIVE O. CALLENDER, M.D., FOUNDER AND PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR, NATIONAL MOTTEP

DEAR DR. CALLENDER: For many years I have stressed the importance of organ donation, and also the need for potential donors to be certain their families are willing to carry out their wishes when the time comes. No one should have to die waiting for an organ or tissue transplant. For more information about how you can help save a life, please call MOTTEP at (800) 393-2839.

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