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Diversity among organ donors low despite need

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Posted at 5:01 PM, Sep 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-20 20:01:39-04

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Looking at old photos isn’t always easy for Angel Uddin.

Seventeen years ago, Angel’s husband Stewart was on his way home from martial arts training.

“And had come down the street in June, driving with all the kids out playing. I opened the garage door, got ready to turn into the driveway, and suffered a massive heart attack inside of his car,” said Uddin.

Stewart passed away, and while she was at the hospital, Angel was approached by hospital staff and asked if she would like to donate Stewart's organs.

“Well, at that moment, it seemed extremely disrespectful, and I couldn’t believe as raw as I was and in that moment of huge emotion that they would come and ask that type of question,” said Uddin.

It’s not an unusual response.

“Often, it’s fear. I don’t want to donate because they’re going to cut up my body,” said Dr. Ty Diwan, a transplant specialist at the Mayo Clinic.

The American Medical Association’s guidelines for organ procurement are extensive, and all medical professionals are bound by ethical codes, regulations, and the law. Diwan says most of the stigma surrounding organ donation isn’t true.

Uddin ended up deciding she had made a mistake about her husband's organs.

“I missed that opportunity, and I very quickly, not long after, in fact, the next day realized that that was a missed opportunity because he would have been most definitely interested in giving the gift of life,” she said.

It’s a missed opportunity that impacts Angel’s community directly.

“60% of patients who need transplantation are a minority, but only 30% donate,” said Diwan.

Successful organ transplants rely on a match of many genetic characteristics but not a race.

“It’s not that somebody who’s black isn’t going to match someone who’s white. It’s just in specific communities, ethnic communities, racial communities, there’s a higher likelihood of those matches,” said Diwan.

That’s what Uddin wants her community to know.

“Helping the BIPOC understand the issues at hand and how we can extend and save lives is really critical because we already struggle with disparities in the health care system,” said Uddin.

She knows it’s what Stewart would have wanted and helps her stay connected to the man she loved so much.

“Our wedding invitations still hangs on the wall in my bedroom because he’s still a very viable part of who I am every day,” she said, “It’s the reason why I do it, because, though I couldn’t give his organs, his legacy lives on through this type of stuff.”